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By W. T. Stead 

I H AVE been asked to write a few words of intro- 
duction to Mr. Pillans' translation of Lieut.-Colonel 
Labaume's narrative of Napoleon's Russian Campaign 
of 1812, and I comply with the greatest pleasure. 

Labaume was a lieut.-colonel in the French army. 
He went through the campaign from first to last. He 
records what he saw and heard and suffered with the 
downright simplicity of one who was a soldier without 
ceasing to be a man. He is a first-hand witness of events 
which have been artistically treated by Verestchagin 
on canvas, and by Count Tolstoi in his great prose epic 
of War and Peace. 

The most striking chapters in the book are those 
which describe the ghastly catastrophe of the headlong 
rush of the wreck of the Grand Army across the territory 
which Napoleon had desolated. Like a wounded mastodon, 
crippled and bleeding at every pore, the once invincible 
army staggers blindly, madly, through the snow, intent 
only on escape, until at last, a mere shadow of its former 
self, starving, frost-bitten, despairing, it reaches safety in 
Prussia. More vivid word-painting may be found else- 
where, but here are the words of a man who saw it 
all and who tells us what he saw. 

It was not, however, from my desire to commend 

Labaume's narrative, which Mr. Pillans has put into 



excellent English, that led me to respond so willingly to 
the translator's request that I should write a brief intro- 
duction to this notable book. What tempted me was 
the opportunity which such an introduction affords of 
saying a much-needed word on the subject of Labaume's 

There is a strange and pestilent habit among some 
Englishmen of ignoring all the great services which 
Russia has rendered to the cause of human progress 
and the liberty of nations, because, forsooth, Russia is 
an autocracy which is now only beginning to be tempered 
by constitutionalism and a semblance of parliamentary 
institutions. The Centenary of the 1812, which is to be 
celebrated as a great national and indeed international 
festival this year at Moscow, ought to afford all such 
atrabilious critics material for serious reflection. For, as 
Madame Novikoff once remarked, it was in the glorious 
year 181 2 that Moscow was offered up as a burnt sacrifice 
on the altar of European, freedom. It was the Russian 
campaign which broke the power of Napoleon. After the 
retreat from Moscow, Leipzig and Waterloo were but the 
corollaries of a solved problem. That which all Europe 
with Britain to back her, failed to do, the Russian people 
accomplished by a heroism of patriotic devotion, attested 
by incredible sacrifices, of which it is well that the world 
should be reminded this year. 

Let me quote two authorities, one English the other 
French, as to the services which Russia — unregenerate, 
despotic Muscovite Russia — rendered to the cause of 
European freedom. 

The Englishman, George Canning, speaking in 
Liverpool in 18 14, on this subject, made the following 
pertinent observations : — 



" By what power, in what part of the world, has that 
final blow been struck which has smitten the Giant to the 
ground ? I suppose by some enlightened Republic ; I 
suppose by some nation which in the excess of popular 
freedom considers even a representative system as de- 
fective unless each individual interferes directly in the 
national concerns ; some nation of enlightened patriots, 
every man of whom is a politician in the coffee-house 
as well as in the Senate. I suppose it is from such a 
Government as this that the Conqueror of Autocrats, 
the sworn destroyer of monarchical England has met 
his doom. I look through the European world in vain ; 
I find there is no such august Community. But where 
was the blow struck? Where? Alas for theory! In 
the wilds of despotic Russia. It was followed up on 
the plains of Leipzig by Russian, Prussian and Austrian 

Let it not be said that Russia being invaded merely 
defended her own fatherland. The defence of Russia was 
the work of 1812. The liberation of Europe was achieved 
in 18 1 3, and achieved through the initiative, the high 
resolve and self-sacrificing ardour of Russia. 

M. Alfred Rambaud, the French historian of Russia, 
pays homage to the nation which banished the nightmare 
of Napoleonic domination. He says : 

" The power which had struck hardest for the freedom 
of Europe was most poorly compensated. It is an incon- 
testable fact that, of all the Allies, Russia showed herself 
the least grasping. It was she who had given the signal 
for the struggle against Napoleon, and had shown the 
most perseverance in pursuit of the common end. Without 
her example the States of Europe would never have 
dreamed of arming against him. Her skilful leniency 
towards France finished the work begun by the war." 



It is well to be reminded by these facts, when differences 
of opinion as to the necessity of isolated and temporary 
acts of policy, in countries where England and Russia 
find themselves face to face with Oriental anarchy, seem 
to have blinded many good-hearted but wrong-headed 
people, as to the many incalculable services which Russia 
has rendered to mankind. 

One more observation and I have done. In this book 
we see war at its worst, war uncontrolled by rules and 
regulations ; war in which armed men pillaged undefended 
cities, outraged helpless women, burned down the villages 
of harmless peasants. War nowadays, despite occasional 
outbursts of panic-roused savagery in the ranks of the 
Italian invaders of Tripoli, is a comparatively humane 
operation. The proceedings of armies in the field are 
confined in their ever narrower and narrower limits. 
Almost everything that Napoleon's Grand Army did, 
excepting when actually engaged in active combat, now 
lies under the ban of all the civilised Governments of the 
world. And to whom is it that we owe this great advance ? 
We owe it not to humanitarian England nor to chivalrous 
France. We owe it, first and foremost of all, to that 
much-abused and much-maligned Russia which in 1874 
summoned the Brussels Conference to define the laws of 
war, and which in 1889 and 1907 carried on the same 
noble mission at the Conferences of the Hague. 



^T^ HE writer of the following narrative says of Napoleon 
J. that he will be for historians "the riddle of the 
human heart." But there is a greater enigma connected 
with his career, and that is the growth and persistency 
of what is known as the " Napoleonic Legend." How 
is it that this evil genius, who kept Europe in a turmoil 
for twenty years ; who bled France almost to death ; 
whose armies passed like a blighting pestilence from 
Lisbon to Moscow ; whom no treaties could bind ; to 
whom the strongest ties of human affection and gratitude 
were as gossamer when they stood in the way of his 
insatiable ambition, — how is it that this modern Attila 
has become for many the embodiment of human great- 
ness, and that in the Christian era people are to be found 
to worship the memory of the murderer of the Due 
d'Enghien and the wholesale violator of the moral law ? 

The answer is to be found in the cunning of the man 
himself, and the credulity of his dupes. After having 
shown himself to be the greatest liberticide in history, 
he devoted his well-merited exile in St. Helena to 
spinning a web of ingenious sophistries to prove that 
instead of being the Demon of Discord he was in reality 
the Apostle of Peace. He, the suppressor of liberty, 
posed as the champion of Liberalism in Europe; and 
the emancipator of the nations from the tyrants who 
oppressed them. The astonishing effrontery of the claim 


Translator's Preface 

assured its success, for the bulk of mankind are prone 
to believe that which is asserted with emphasis, even 
when unsupported by proof. 

Napoleon Bonaparte began as a Jacobin, and ended 
as one, for the spirit of Jacobinism is the spirit of tyranny. 
It matters not whether that spirit is manifested in the 
rags of a sans-culotte or under the imperial purple, and 
" a Robespierre on horseback " is probably the most 
dangerous of the breed. 

His early successes were due far more to the smiles 
of Fortune than to his own deserts. At Brumaire he 
would have been irretrievably lost but for the ready wit 
of his brother Lucien, and at Marengo his rout was 
certain but for the timely intervention of Desaix and 
the splendid charge of Kellerman. He himself believed 
that he was born under a lucky star. 

With all his undoubted genius, it was the limitations 
of his knowledge which caused his downfall. France 
and her people he knew by heart, but his ignorance of 
Spain, Russia and England precipitated his ruin. With 
regard to the first, his short-sighted treachery roused the 
latent fire of Spanish patriotism, the flames of which 
scorched his laurels and set Europe in a blaze. The 
snows of Russia were the winding-sheet of his reputation, 
and in his insane hatred of England he launched those 
famous decrees which carried ruin to the trade and 
commerce of Europe, and ranged the whole of the 
middle classes against him. 

When his star began to be veiled behind the clouds 
of his own arrogance and conceit, his fall was like the 
descent of a meteor. An edifice which it had taken 
twenty years of bloodshed and treachery to erect fell 
with a crash in little more than two. The Russian 

Translator's Preface 

catastrophe of 1812 was the precursor of the abdication 
of 1 8 14, and Waterloo only gave him the coup de grâce. 

He was pre-eminently lucky in the circumstances of 
his early career. He then commanded an army imbued 
with revolutionary fervour — an army of political dervishes 
who went forth conquering and to conquer in the sacred 
names of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. He was 
the incarnation of the Revolution, the apostle of the 
regeneration of enslaved peoples. He had against him 
incompetent generals, commanding armies of serfs. At 
the close of the war the positions were reversed. He had 
become the enslaver of nations, and the nations them- 
selves were in arms against him. He began by warring 
on kings, he ended by warring on peoples. 

Of all the crimes and blunders which he committed 
none exceeds in turpitude the Russian campaign of 181 2. 
It was unprovoked and entirely gratuitous. It was com- 
menced à cœur léger, like another war in later times, 
which brought on France almost equal disasters, and 
which was, by the way, the damnosa hcereditas of the 
"Napoleonic Legend." Designed to be carried on at 
the expense of the invaded country, no forethought was 
displayed for the supply of his army or the security 
of its retreat. Instead of the fertile plains and sunny 
skies of Italy, he found the forest-clad, barren swamps 
of Lithuania, lying under gloomy skies, which brooded 
over a fire-blackened waste. The results of his colossal 
recklessness were seen in the destruction of half a million 
of men, a veritable holocaust of Nations, offered at the 
shrine of the man who basely fled to Paris, leaving his 
victims to the tender mercies of barbarous Cossacks and 
an infuriated peasantry. 

This year, on the 23rd of June, a century will have 


Translator's Preface 



elapsed since Napoleon crossed the Niémen to commence 
this wicked and wanton war. 

To those who worship at the shrine of the Moloch 
of Militarism (that bloody idol to which have been sacri- 
ficed so many millions of the human race) I commend 
this narrative. Those also who still believe in the 
" Napoleonic Legend " may find in the following pages 
matter for reflection. 

The centenary of the Moscow campaign seems a 
fitting occasion to republish, in an English dress, this 
graphic description of one of the most ghastly episodes 
in history; which stands on the same evil eminence as 
the destruction of Carthage and Jerusalem, and will 
remain for all time a sinister example of the miseries 
\ which can be inflicted on mankind by the diabolism of 
unbridled ambition. 




I DESCRIBE what I myself have seen; eye-witness of 
one of the greatest disasters that have ever befallen 
a powerful nation ; spectator and participator throughout 
the whole course of this terrible and ever-memorable 
campaign, I do not pretend to present the facts with 
artistic effect and coloured with exaggeration. I recorded 
day by day the events which unfolded themselves before 
my eyes, and I only seek to communicate the impressions 
I received. It was by the glare of burning Moscow that 
I described the sack of that city ; it was on the banks of 
the Berezina that I recorded the fatal passage of that 
river. The plans of the battlefields that accompany this 
work were executed upon the spot by order of Prince 

It is almost impossible to realise the difficulties which 
I had to surmount in order to preserve my memoirs. 
Engaged, like my comrades-in-arms, in continual fighting; 
perishing from cold, tormented by the pangs of hunger ; 
victim of every kind of suffering ; uncertain at the dawn 
of each day whether I should see its close, my mind 
seemed to concentrate itself upon the desire to live to 
describe my experiences. Possessed by this indescribable 
craving, each night when seated before a smouldering fire 
in a temperature of 20 to 25 degrees below zero, I 
recorded the events of the day. The same knife that had 
served to cut up a piece of horseflesh to allay the pangs 



of hunger, I employed to fashion a pen out of a raven's 
feathers ; a little gunpowder, diluted in the hollow of my 
hand with melted snow, furnished me with a substitute 
for writing materials. 

I have written my narrative without spite and without 
prejudice; but I cannot deny that in describing this 
enterprise — one of the most deplorable which ambition 
ever conceived — I have had a hundred times to repress 
my indignation against the author of so much evil. At 
the same time, the admiration due to his past greatness, 
and the recollection of the memorable victories of which 
I was a witness, and in the glories of which I participated, 
have imposed upon me the duty of restricting myself 
to facts in my impeachment of the conqueror, and 
scrupulously to refrain from abusive declamation. 

Having continually before my eyes the spectacle of 
this host of warriors, miserably perishing in distant 
deserts, I have only been sustained by the idea of paying 
homage to their constancy ; to a courage which has never 
been denied, and to deeds all the more heroic in that they 
neither redounded to the advantage of their country nor 
reaped glory for themselves. I shall be content if I have 
been able to show by this enthralling narrative, that in 
the midst of such overwhelming disasters our brave 
soldiers were always worthy of themselves; that they 
failed in nothing of their ancient renown, and that, always 
formidable to the enemy, they were only vanquished by 
the elements. 




Introduction by W. T. Stead ..... v 

Translator's Preface ...... ix 

Preface ........ xiii 




France after Tilsit — Alarm of Germany — England's splendid deter- 
mination — Napoleon's perfidy towards Spain, and its consequences 
— The Austrian marriage — Its results — Napoleon at his zenith — 
Madness of his ambition ...... 3 


Tension between Napoleon, and Alexander — Napoleon's overweening 
arrogance — Gigantic preparations — Prussia and Austria forced to 
support Napoleon — Refusal of Sweden — Constitution and numbers 
of French army — Its leaders — The Russian forces and plan of cam- 
paign — Distrust of Prussia — The Fourth Corps ; its movements — 
Napoleon rudely rejects Russian offer — His proclamation to his 
army — Positions of the Russian army — Its leaders . . .10 


The Niémen crossed — Alexander's impressive proclamation — Russians 
retire — Privations and difficulties begin — Terrible marching — Ab- 
sence of food — The villages deserted and the country laid waste — 
Napoleon at Wilna — His tricks to deceive the Poles — "Organisa- 
tion " of the conquered provinces — Polish Diet demands the libera- 
tion of Poland — Napoleon's disquietude — The Poles find him out . 21 



Pursuit of Russians through bogs and forests — Dreadful privations of 
French army — Mortality among horses — Russian proclamation to 
French army — Parthian tactics . . . . 38 





Uneasiness created by continued retreat of Russians — Difficulties in 
crossing the Dwina — Desultory engagements — Action near Witepsk 
— Russians again retreat — Occupation of Witepsk . . .46 


Relief at entering Witepsk — Good order of Russian army — Pursuit 
continued — A martial bivouac — Hunting for the Russians — 
Manœuvres of Russians — French successes — Lying report of 
Alexander's assassination — Napoleon's indecent joy at the news — 
His attempts to disseminate it . . . -57 



Intense heat — French lose guns and men — Continued difficulties ot 
marching — The Dnieper ; romance and reality — Graphic descrip- 
tion of the burning of Smolensk by Russians — Uneasiness caused 
thereby — Entry into Smolensk — Horrors of the town — Pursuit re- 
sumed — Saint-Cyr's victories on the Dwina — Action of Valontina 
— Napoleon distributes rewards . . . . «65 


Expectation that Napoleon would not proceed beyond Smolensk — 
Advantages of not doing so — His recklessness and disregard of 
warnings — A better country — Burning of Viazma — Napoleon orders 
his army to prepare for a great battle . . . .80 



Russian army of Moldavia — Its danger to Napoleon — Russians tired of 
retreating, resolve to fight — Kutusoff made Commander-in-Chief — 
Joy of Russians at his appointment — Capture of Russian redoubt 
with fearful slaughter — Preparations for the battle — Napoleon's 
stirring address to the army . . , , .89 


The battle of Borodino begins — "The Sun of Austerlitz " — Description 
of the battle — Fearful carnage — Alternate successes — Awful spec- 
tacle within the great redoubt — Great mortality among generals 
and other officers on both sides — Napoleon obtains a complete 
victory — End of battle ...,,. iqi, 





Aspect of the field of battle — Fearful Russian losses — Pursuit of Russians 
— Rising of peasants at Rouza — They are crushed — Looting of 
Rouza — Panic from Cossacks— Departure from Rouza . .Ill 



March on Moscow — Panic in the capital — Entire desolation of country 
by Russians — Abbey of Zwenighorod — Interview with a monk — 
His description of Russian plans — His opinion of Napoleon — Letter 
from Moscow describing events — The Metropolitan of Moscow — 
His fervent patriotism . . . . . .119 


March on Moscow resumed through deserted villages — Trouble from 
Cossacks — First view of the capital — Interview with citizen — 
He states intention of burning down the city — The Fourth Corps 
enters Moscow — It is found entirely deserted — Appalling silence — 
" Nerves " of French . . . . . .130 


Wholesale looting — Burning of "The Bourse" — Awful scene of havoc 
— Interview with French tutor — The city on fire in four places — 
Grand but terrible spectacle — Universal destruction — Napoleon 
leaves the Kremlin — Desecration of tombs of the Czars — The fire 
spreads throughout the city — Awful misery of the inhabitants — 
Moscow evacuated . . . . . . 138 




Unique character of campaign — Disastrous results of Napoleon's mad 
ambition — The consequences to the French of the destruction of 
Moscow — Terrible wastage of the French army on the way there — 
Presages of coming doom — Moscow reoccupied . . . 153 


Appearance of Moscow after the fire — Convicts and prostitutes — 
Pitiable plight of surviving inhabitants — Real want and apparent 
plenty — Napoleon's absurd proclamations and "organisation" of 

b xvii 



city — Futile negotiations — Plan to march south into the Ukraine 
— Napoleon wastes his time in reviews — His rage at pretended 
" treachery" of Russians — Moscow finally abandoned by him . 160 


The retreat begins amidst great difficulties — Blowing up of the Kremlin 
— Napoleon's vandalism — Arrival at Malo-Jaroslavetz — Russians 
bar the way to the south — Bloody action — The French victorious 
after suffering heavy losses — Horrible appearance of town — 
Cossack raids . . . . . . 173 



Lessons of Malo-Jaroslavetz — Depletion of French army — Its critical 
position — Compelled to abandon march to south — Retakes route 
to Smolensk — Fearful brutality and ferocity of French — Wholesale 
murders, rapes and incendiarism — French without food and shelter 
— Napoleon in advance, burns everything in his way — Awful con- 
sequences to following corps — Appalling aspect of the field of 
Borodino — Deplorable state of the Russian prisoners . .183 


Difficult passage of the Kologha — Napoleon blames the Prince 01 
Eckmuhl — Terrible bivouac — Absence of firewood — Troops 
reduced to eating horseflesh, and horses to eating straw — Attack 
on baggage by Cossacks, and panic — General mutual robbery and 
swindling in French army . . . . . .191 


Action of Viazma— The French, opposed by enormous odds, break 
through the Russians — A night march — Difficult passage of the 
Osma — Attacks by Cossacks . . . . .198 


All hopes centred in Smolensk — The snow arrives — Its frightful con- 
sequences — The army becomes totally demoralised — Arrival at 
Doroghoboui — Found to have been burnt down by Napoleon — 
The results of this savagery — Dreadful plight of the stragglers . 204 





Napoleon's plans for renewing war in the spring — They are destroyed 
by the loss of Polotsk and Witepsk — Description of operations on 
the Dwina — Gouvion Saint-Cyr outnumbered — Napoleon's fatal 
blunder — The climate not the real cause of the débâcle, but 
Napoleon's own folly in persisting in going to Moscow . . 207 


The Fourth Corps ordered to Witepsk — Terrible march over icebound 
country — Awful passage of the Vop — Sufferings of the women and 
children — Dreadful plight of army . . . . .213 


Encouraged by the French débâcle, the Cossacks renew their attacks — 
Splendid horror of a night fire — Joyful anticipations of Smolensk — 
Army followed by packs of famished dogs and flocks of ravens . 220 


Arrival at Smolensk — Bitter disappointment and despair — State of the 
town — Criminal neglect of Napoleon to provide for wants of army 
— News of attempted rising in France .... 225 


Looting the stores — The Italian Guard of Honour and its terrible fate — 
Fresh disasters to French armies — Napoleon attempts to throw 
blame on Baraguay d'Hilliers — His gross injustice — The Fourth 
Corps leaves Smolensk — Débris of army — Its shocking demoral- 
isation . . . . . . . .231 

Russians offer Viceroy terms — He scornfully rejects them — Critical 
position of Fourth Corps — It loses the last of its guns — How it 
was extricated — Narrow escape — Napoleon's danger and ill-temper 
— Loss of French in killed, wounded, prisoners and guns . . 238 



Critical position of French army — Russian armies on line of retreat — 
March on Liadoui, with frequent bloody engagements — Liadoui 
burnt — Shocking fate of the wounded — The fiasco of the "Sacred 
Squadron " — The soldiers clamour for bread — Napoleon harangues 
his Guard ........ 246 





Position of Orcha not occupied by Russians — Its importance — Deputa- 
tion of Poles to Napoleon — He is ashamed to receive them — Ney's 
heroism — Napoleon endeavours by threats to rally his troops — His 
artifices to deceive the enemy — Junction of Russian armies places 
him in great peril ....... 253 


Napoleon prepares to cross the Berezina at Weselowo — Movements of 
the Russians to interrupt him — Contrast between the advance and 
retreat of the French army — Brutalising effect of disasters — 
Passage of the Berezina — Appalling results of the breaking of 
the bridge — Horrible loss of life . . . . . 259 


Action of Weselowo — The French are surrounded and compelled to 
surrender — The French abandon the heights above the Berezina — 
The Russians drive the French across the river — Horrible scenes 
of carnage ........ 265 



Extraordinary rapidity of Napoleon's downfall — The miseries of the 
retreat increase — Frightful cold — Napoleon's narrow escape — The 
swamps of Lithuania again — Napoleon meditates flight — His 
furtive departure — Consternation of army — The soldiers' frank 
expressions on hearing that their leader has deserted them — Murat 
takes the supreme command ..... 270 


General demoralisation caused by Napoleon's flight — The Neapolitans 
destroyed by the cold — Shocking brutality of the soldiers to 
each other — The appalling cold and its effects — Cannibalism — 
Hopes centred in Wilna — Found to be another Smolensk — Panic 
in Wilna — Murat seeks safety in flight — General looting . . 276 


Wilna evacuated — Night marches — Looting the Imperial Treasury — 
Retributive justice ; French soldiers to rebuild Moscow — Hard 
but inevitable fate of the common soldier in war — Arrival at 
Kowno — Scenes of drunkenness and disorder — March on the 
Niémen — The river is crossed — Dispersal of the army — The 
remains of the Fourth Corps — Conclusion . . . 284 

Appendix — 

Biographical Sketches of Leaders of French Army . . . 294 






France after Tilsit — Alarm of Germany — England's splendid determination — 
Napoleon's perfidy towards Spain, and its consequences — The Austrian 
Marriage — Its results — Napoleon at his zenith— Madness of his ambition 

THOSE who search our annals for the most brilliant 
period of our glory will, without question, find that 
France was never more powerful than immediately after 
the Treaty of Tilsit. At that time Spain, under the name 
of our ally, was in reality one of our provinces, supplying 
us with men, with money and with ships. Italy, wisely 
governed by a prince who was not only a good soldier 
but an able administrator, was subject to the same laws 
as the rest of the Empire, enjoyed a prosperity as great 
as our own, and recalled with pride that her legions had 
displayed in the first Polish campaign a splendid courage 
which procured for France a glorious peace. Alarmed 
by our colossal aggrandisement, Germany, unable longer 
to oppose herself to our success, only sought to assure 
her existence by accepting all the great changes which 
had overthrown the Germanic constitution. England 
alone, the persistent foe to an ambition so fatal to her 
own, saw in Napoleon's achievements only danger for 
herself and oppression for the Continent. Determined to 
place bounds to this inordinate ambition, she represented 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

to each of the Northern Powers how vital it was to their 
interests to stay the rapidly increasing progress of our 
over-weening preponderance. Vain attempt! These 
sovereigns, deceived by their courtiers, did not possess 
the experience necessary to convince them that they must 
all combine to crush the giant who would devour them. 

After his return from Tilsit, the mania for invasion 
suggested to the victor the idea of kindling in Spain an 
unjust war, which was doomed later on to blast his laurels, 
and afford his enemies the longed-for opportunity of anni- 
hilating so dangerous a power. 

A weak prince was the nominal ruler of that unhappy 
Peninsula ; but a perfidious favourite, a traitor to his 
country, and basely ungrateful to his royal benefactor, 
was the actual governor of the State; and by the most 
craven subservience to the foreigner disgraced the nation 
whose rights he seemed to have usurped, only to subject 
it to a long and shameful servitude. The credulity of 
the father and the timidity of the son facilitated these 
criminal designs, and he played off one against the other. 
Under the pretence of stopping those quarrels, Napoleon, 
feigning peaceful intentions, promised his mediation, 
repaired to Bayonne, and seized both monarchs so that 
he might dispose of their crown. The proud Castillians, 
indignant at such an outrage, from being faithful allies 
became irreconcilable enemies ; they immortalised them- 
selves by their constancy in misfortune ; while we, on 
the other hand, lost our reputation for invincibility by 
attempting to accomplish a design utterly opposed to 
sound policy, and which presents in the history of a 
civilised nation an instance of ingratitude so monstrous 
that no parallel can be found for it in the records of 
barbarous peoples. 



Spain, although bordering upon France, was little 
known ; the character of its inhabitants was known even 
less ; this ignorance misled the conqueror, and led him 
to attempt a sinister invasion of which all the evils are 
subordinate to the fact that it was, together with the 
campaign of Moscow, the prime cause of the events which 
resulted in the deliverance of Europe. It is no part of 
my plan to give a resume of an aggression which led to 
a struggle between two nations equally generous ; who 
had always been united by mutual esteem, and who still 
would be so if a perfidious despot had not founded his 
power upon the hatred of Peoples. This struggle, memor- 
able for its ferocity and its vicissitudes, should afford the 
historian a splendid subject for his pen, and the soldier 
a vast field for study. At present I confine myself to 
observing that Providence seems to have prompted 
Napoleon to these two iniquitous wars in order to teach 
the Spaniards and the Russians how fatal must be an 
alliance with evil men, reserving as her last lesson in 
morality the luring on of her instrument from blunder to 
blunder, in order to show humanity that while tyranny 
is a crime against all mankind, it can easily be defeated 
by a general uprising under the banners of Justice. 

While Napoleon vainly endeavoured to drive the 
English from the Peninsula, a new storm burst over 
Germany. Austria, who had been so often humiliated, 
could not accustom herself to the shameful yoke which 
her defeats had imposed upon her. The revolt of the 
Spaniards, and the numerous army with which England 
supported them, afforded her a favourable opportunity 
to recover her lost possessions, and to resume that 
political preponderance which she valued so much. 

The new war with Austria was for France only a 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

fresh field for the achievement of military glory. Land- 
shut, Eckmuhl and Ratisbonne, — a series of brilliant 
successes, paved the way for the most memorable of her 
victories ; the field of Wagram repeated the prodigies of 
Austerlitz, and in one campaign secured for France the 
most decisive results. 

The Treaty of Vienna not only gave us peace, but 
placed under our domination opulent provinces ; it 
extended the boundaries of Wiirtemberg and Bavaria, 
and seemed to foreshadow the complete restoration of 
Poland. But this treaty, enforced by a power which 
threatened the general security, would have contained 
the germs of another war, had not the most august and 
most unexpected of alliances crowned the fortunes of 
the victor. 

The sovereign of Austria, wearied with a resistance 
which had proved so fatal to his arms, bowed to the 
inevitable by yielding to a man before whom everything 
yielded. He sacrificed his glory and even his blood to 
obtain peace, realising thus those fabulous times when 
magnanimous princes offered up their daughters to avert 
the plague which devastated their countries. 

Of all the good fortune which destiny bestowed upon 
Napoleon, this marriage was, without question, the most 
extraordinary, since it secured the position of a man, 
who, emerging from the ranks, had allied himself with a 
powerful monarch; but nothing satisfied with such an 
elevation, he was dazzled by it, and deliberately threw 
away all its results, in the mad endeavour to surpass the 
limits of his brilliant destiny. Thus, utterly wanting in 
wisdom, that which appeared to add to his greatness only 
became the cause of his ruin. 

This epoch was without doubt the most astonishing 



of all those which occurred during the life of Napoleon. 
What man could then have enjoyed more glorious and 
more peaceful days ! From a simple citizen he had seen 
himself raised to the first throne in the world ; his reign 
had been one long series of victories ; and as the summit 
of his happiness, a son, the most ardent of his desires, was 
born into the world to succeed him. Even the peoples 
who were bound beneath his yoke were beginning to be 
reconciled to it, and seemed desirous of preserving the 
crown to his house. All the foreign princes who were 
subjected to his power had become his vassals, main- 
tained his troops, and paid tribute to satisfy his luxury 
and extravagance. In fine, all obeyed him. He lacked 
nothing that could contribute to his happiness. Nothing, 
that is, if one can be happy without love and without 
justice; but, never having known these feelings, he found 
neither felicity nor repose. Abandoned to a restless spirit 
and to chimeras of an insatiable ambition, he listened to 
nothing but the promptings of his tumultuous passions ; 
to satisfy which he sighed for the unattainable, and 
disregarding others he forgot everything until he forgot 

The Continent appeared to have accepted in good 
faith all the great changes which Napoleon had effected ; 
and the vulgar, whose restricted vision rarely penetrates 
to the dark recesses of kingly ambition, believed that the 
extraordinary alliance of this man with an archduchess 
would crown his immoderate desires ; and above all that 
the softening influence of fatherhood would lead him to 
see that a throne was consolidated not by blood and 
tears, but by wise institutions, which securing attachment 
to his government would ensure its permanence. Never 
had mortal combined easier and more certain means to 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

realise the happiness of the world. It sufficed him to be 
just and prudent ; founding its hopes on that, the Nation 
accorded him that unbounded confidence which he after- 
wards so cruelly abused. Posterity will decide whether 
the worst crime of Napoleon consisted in the direct evil 
he committed, or in his omission to confer upon mankind 
those blessings which he could command, but which never 
so much as crossed his mind. 

This man, who will be for historians the riddle of the 
human heart, would have been admired by the whole world 
if he had devoted to a proper object the exceptional 
abilities which he cultivated for the enslavement of 
mankind. But far from meditating with calmness and 
moderation upon the beneficent application of his genius, 
he conceived enterprises beyond the compass of human 
power, and to realise them he forgot the host of victims 
whose sacrifice they would involve. Tortured by sombre 
visions, the slightest contradiction irritated him, and the 
bare idea that a nation existed sufficiently determined to 
turn a deaf ear to all his overtures, and to resist his sinister 
influence, was a reflection that tore his heart asunder and 
poisoned the brightest moments of his glory. To crush an 
enemy whom he could not reach, he extended in vain his 
arms to the two confines of Europe ; hardly had he thought 
to grasp this enemy at one point, when it escaped him at 
another ; furious at seeing his project foiled, he aspired to 
universal domination, for the sole reason that a people 
isolated from the Continent knew how to profit by its 
fortunate position to exempt itself from his intolerable 

In the hope of realising his fatal system, he extended 
France in all directions beyond her natural boundaries ; 
he formed chimerical designs, and professed to entertain 



a dread of Russia under the pretence that, desiring to 
seat herself upon the ancient throne of Constantine, she 
would thus command the two seas that encircle Europe 
He then arrogated to himself the rôle of prophet, warning 
France of remote misfortunes, and sacrificing the present 
generation to the problematical welfare of generations 
yet unborn. 

Deluded by the brilliance of his fortune, he despised 
the advice of the wisest counsellors ; ability was only 
recognised in those who would agree with his insane 
pretensions ; and with him the most subservient courtier 
became the most useful subject. Despot over his people 
and his army ; himself the slave of his own desires, he 
aspired to universal dominion, and carried his ambitious 
projects to the extremities of the pole. A defective 
judgment conducted him to an unsound policy, and led 
him to make in the north, as he had already done in the 
south, a dangerous enemy, out of the most loyal and 
powerful of his allies. 

Intoxicated with success, he persuaded himself that 
he was the object of envy to all the Powers ; judging her 
by his own standard, he thought that Russia viewed with 
secret jealousy the union contracted between the most 
ancient and the most recent of empires. Full of this 
idea, he pursued his devastating plan ; and wishing, as he 
said, that his dynasty should soon become the oldest in 
Europe, he sought to consecrate his usurpation by de- 
throning all the legitimate princes, to bestow their crowns 
upon his brothers, who, too feeble to second his tyranny, 
only shone around him as pallid satellites shine around 
a baleful sun. 


Tension between Napoleon and Alexander — Napoleon's overweening arro- 
gance — Gigantic preparations — Prussia and Austria forced to support 
Napoleon — Refusal of Sweden — Constitution and numbers of French 
army — Its leaders — The Russian forces and plan of campaign — Distrust 
of Prussia — The Fourth Corps ; its movements — Napoleon rudely rejects 
Russian offer — His proclamation to his army — Positions of the Russian 
Army — Its leaders. 

THE Treaty of Tilsit was merely a truce for those 
who knew the character of Napoleon. In com- 
paring the continually increasing power of the two great 
empires, it was universally recognised from their common 
splendour that one or the other would overthrow the 
colossal edifice which both appeared desirous of uprearing. 
Formerly the distance which separated them inevitably 
tended to keep their interests apart ; but the conquests of 
France having made her Russia's neighbour, everything 
portended their approaching rupture. 

For more than two years each had maintained towards 
the other a hostile attitude ; until at last Napoleon, having 
reinforced the garrison of Dantzig, formed several corps 
d'armée, completed the cavalry, the train of artillery and 
the whole military organisation, considered himself in a 
position to complain of Russia ; and conveniently for- 
getting that he had, in defiance of treaties, invaded 
Holland, the Hanseatic cities, and above all the Duchy of 
Oldenburg, over which Alexander's brother-in-law had 



legitimate rights, he charged him, as a grave offence, with 
having renewed commercial relations with England. 

Nothing, however, in the shape of hostile action was 
taken, with the exception of the famous senatus consultum, 
which organised the Empire on a military basis. The 
country thus found itself on the verge of the most perilous 
struggle in which it had ever been engaged ; one half of 
Europe was about to march against the other, without 
Napoleon having deigned to inform the Senate, and 
without that body having been allowed to express an 
opinion on a war in which France was about to pour out 
her blood and her treasure. 

Public opinion was as yet uncertain as to the motive 
and the object of all these armaments. Our differences 
with the Russians, in view of the climate of that country, 
offered so few advantages and involved such great risks, 
that it was difficult to imagine that we would ourselves 
provoke aggressions where we had so much to lose and so 
little to gain. It was believed, on the contrary, that the 
three great Empires were about to combine to effect the 
partition of Turkey, and thus strike a disastrous blow at 
the English possessions in Asia. But those who were 
aware of the dissatisfaction of Napoleon at the refusal of 
the Senate of St. Petersburg to give him Alexander's 
sister in marriage, had no doubt whatever that our pre- 
parations were directed against the North. The mission 
of Colonel Czernichew, and particularly his hasty depar- 
ture, following upon his insidious attempts to discover the 
secrets of the State, were proofs positive that there would 
shortly arrive a terrible struggle between the rival Powers, 
of which the shock would overturn the world. 

Thenceforth France continued her gigantic arma- 
ments ; innumerable cohorts passed from the banks of 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

the Tagus to those of the Oder, and the same soldiers 
who had recently camped on the fertile plains of 
Lombardy, at the end of three months found themselves 
transported to the arid sands of Poland. 

In these circumstances all eyes were turned towards 
Prussia ; and the whole world waited with impatience to 
see which side she would espouse ; her cities, her terri- 
tories, were all occupied by our armies ; nevertheless the 
weight of our alliance seemed so opposed to her policy, 
and above all so injurious to her interests, that in spite 
of the subjection to which she had been reduced, she 
hesitated to pronounce herself; when, to the universal 
astonishment, she finally decided in our favour. Those 
who knew how Napoleon contracted his alliances, re- 
marked that Prussia had only adhered to us when she 
saw Berlin pressed from all sides, and when the Duke of 
Reggio 1 was on the point of entering it as a conqueror. 
Shortly afterwards the King found himself obliged to 
abandon his capital and to leave it to the tender mercies 
of the French general. 

At the same period another treaty was disclosed, 
between France and Austria, the principal clauses of 
which provided that each of the contracting Powers was 
to furnish to whichever might be attacked an auxiliary 
corps of thirty thousand men. And as Napoleon alleged 
that he was menaced by Russia, he asked and obtained 
the promised contingent, which was placed under the 
command of Prince Schwartzenberg. Thus Napoleon 
coerced the kings as Robespierre had tyrannised over the 
Peoples ; under each of them nobody dared to remain 
neutral ; love of peace appeared to them treason, and 
moderation was held to be a crime. 

1 Marshal Oudinot. 


If surprise was felt at seeing the Austrians and the 
Prussians accepting our alliance, much more was experi- 
enced in learning that Sweden had rejected it. This 
Nation, which was perhaps the only one interested in 
seconding our expedition against Russia, was so disgusted 
with our invasion of Pomerania, and with the aggression 
made against the trade of Stralsund, that she declined to 
avail herself of a unique opportunity for avenging the 
fate of Charles XII., preferring to renounce the provinces 
of which she had been deprived rather than to engage 
with us in treaties which, owing to the bad faith of our 
leader, she had no guarantee would be kept. 

The roads of Germany swarmed with troops, who in 
their march maintained the most rigid discipline, all con- 
verging towards the Oder. The King of Westphalia, 1 at 
the head of his guard and two divisions, had already 
passed that river, as had also the Bavarians and the 
Saxons. The first corps was at Stettin, the third marched 
in the same direction, and the fourth, on arriving at Glogau, 
replaced the Westphalians, who left for Warsaw. 

The organisation of our army since its formation was 
imposing; and if I were to enumerate all the nations 
which composed it, I should recall the descriptions of 
Homer when he speaks of the different peoples who 
marched to the conquest of Troy. In the month of April 
the Grand Army included nine corps of infantry, each 
composed of at least three divisions (the first had five) 
and one of cavalry ; to these must be added the Imperial 
Guard, consisting of about fifty thousand men, and four 
grand corps of cavalry bearing the name of "reserve." 
The total of our forces, exclusive of the Austrians, might 
amount to four hundred thousand infantry and sixty 

1 Jerome Bonaparte, 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

thousand cavalry. Nearly twelve hundred guns, distri- 
buted among the different corps d'armée, constituted the 
force of the artillery. 

The Prince of Eckmiihl x had for some time held the 
command of the five divisions which formed the first 
corps ; the second was entrusted to the Duke of Reggio ; 
the third to the Duke of Elchingen ; 2 the fourth, known 
as the Army of Italy (including the Royal Guard), was 
commanded by the Viceroy ; 3 Prince Poniatowski, at the 
head of his Poles, formed the fifth corps. The Bavarians, 
incorporated in the sixth, were under the orders of Count 
Gouvion Saint-Cyr. The Saxons counted as the seventh 
corps, and had for leader General Reynier. The West- 
phalians, marching under the orders of their King, took 
rank in the army under the name of the eighth corps. 
With regard to the ninth, only its framework was formed, 
but it was known that it was intended for the Duke of 
Belluno ; 4 lastly, the tenth corps, placed under the orders 
of the Duke of Taranto, 5 was composed of the Prussians, 
commanded by General Grawert, and of the division 
Grandjean, among whom the only Frenchmen were 
Generals Ricard and Bacheler, and the artillery. 

The Russian forces opposed to us were divided into 
two parts, described under the names of First and Second 
Army of the West ; one was commanded by General 
Baron Barclay de Tolly, and the other by Prince 
Bagration. They consisted of forty-seven divisions, in- 
clusive of eight of cavalry. The Emperor Alexander, 
who with his whole staff had arrived at Wilna on the 
26th of April, had been for some time prepared to repel 

1 Marshal Davoust. 2 Marshal Ney. 

8 Eugene Beauharnais. 4 Marshal Victor. 

6 Marshal Macdonald. 



all our attacks. But those who had long made a study 
of our system of warfare unceasingly urged him not to 
risk a battle, being convinced that Napoleon's ambition 
would lure him into savage regions, which would be, 
during the rigours of winter, the tomb of his army. 

Although Prussia had declared for us, prudence made 
it necessary to distrust an alliance contracted under com- 
pulsion ; and the French garrisons stationed in the various 
fortresses remained therefore always vigilantly on their 
guard ; particularly at Glogau, which was the place 
assigned to several corps for the passage of the Oder. 
Its vicinity to Breslau, where the King of Prussia had 
retired with the rest of his troops, naturally gave rise to 
uneasiness, and compelled the governor to secure himself 
from a coup de main which would have been fatal to the 
designs of France. 

The fourth corps, which had come from Italy, under 
the style of " Army of Observation," seemed by its title to 
be charged sometimes with marching in advance of the 
Grand Army, sometimes on its flanks, and again uniting 
with it when important emergencies demanded its support. 
Having had the honour of belonging to it, I have deemed 
it necessary in the first place to describe its operations, 
as its isolated manœuvres were of high importance and 
came specially within my own knowledge ; besides which 
this corps participated in the big engagements which dis- 
tinguished our march on Moscow. As to the calamities 
of the retreat, it is only too well known that they were 
common to the whole army. 

The Viceroy, before proceeding to take command of 
the fourth corps, which in the meanwhile was under the 
orders of the Duke of Abrantès, 1 was called to Paris, 

1 Marshal Junot, 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

where his conferences with the Emperor led to the belief 
that he was destined for duties even higher than those of 
the leader of an army. For some time a report had been 
current that Napoleon, wishing to end the war in Spain 
himself, had announced to his Council that he intended, 
in the event of his having to leave the capital, to entrust 
this young prince with the government of the Empire. 
But these lofty hopes, which indeed after the repudiation 
of his mother 1 appeared to have little foundation, were 
speedily shattered, for the Viceroy, seven or eight days 
after his arrival in Paris, having received his instructions, 
left for Poland, and arrived at Glogau on the 12th of May. 

During the day on which this prince remained in that 
town he reviewed the troops placed under his orders, and 
was very satisfied with the fine appearance of the fifteenth 
division, composed entirely of Italians; it might then 
number more than thirteen thousand men ; the soldiers 
of which it was formed seemed such seasoned veterans, 
that General Pino, although first captain of the Royal 
Guard, considered himself honoured by such a command. 

The rendezvous of our corps was at Plock, where the 
Bavarians had already arrived, and it was towards that 
town that the Viceroy, passing through Posen, directed 
his steps. His arrival having preceded by some days 
that of his army, he employed the interval to reconnoitre 
the Bug and the Narew, and to unite by a system of 
defence the line which the latter river described with the 
lakes which extend from Augerburg to Johannisburg 
The Prince in particular visited the fortress of Modlin, 
whither the King of Westphalia had also repaired ; the 
dispositions which they made seemed to indicate that 
Volhynia was to be the theatre of war. But, a few days 
1 The Empress Josephine. 



later, the Emperor having arrived at Thorn, became the 

cynosure of all eyes wherever he appeared. The Viceroy 

hastened to tender him his homage, and on returning 

made all the preparations necessary for a movement on 

the 4th of June. 

On that day our corps began its march on Soldau, 

where it arrived on the 6th. A two days' halt was 

ordered, which was utilised to construct the ovens for the 

bakeries. We then advanced upon Villemberg, where a 

forty-eight hours' halt was also made. In three days' 

marching we reached Rastenbourg, a pretty little town 

surrounded by lakes, where the army found some supplies ; 

since leaving Glogau we had not encountered one larger 

or more populous. From Rastenbourg we went to 

Lotzen ; then to Oletzko, the last town in Eastern Prussia. 

Two leagues farther on we entered the Duchy of Warsaw, 

and at once noticed the striking difference between the 

two States ; in one the houses are clean and well built, 

in the other they reek with a fetid stench and are 

wretchedly constructed. The inhabitants of the first are 

civil and hospitable ; those of the second only consist of 

filthy and disgusting Jews ; as to the small Polish 

nobility, their misery is prejudicial to their dignity. The 

great nobles, whose existence is very different, are 

splendid, brave and generous ; their high sense of honour 

and their love of country will always make them veritable 

heroes. The peasant class are few in number; this want 

of population, combined with the barrenness of the soil, 

results in Poland being badly cultivated ; its sandy 

territory, covered with rye, appears to be stricken with 


On arriving at Kalwary we found merely a large 

hamlet full of Jews ; at Marienpol, the same population. 
B 17 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Wearied with their revolting aspect, and above all by 
their number, we said that Poland was nothing but Judaea 
where one sometimes chanced to meet a few Poles. 

During this march Napoleon left Thorn, and visited 
the fortress of Dantzig, which his spirit of domination led 
him to regard as the most important in his Empire ; from 
there he went to Osterode, rapidly passed through the 
towns of Liebstadt and Kreustenbourg, in the neighbour- 
hood of Eylau, Heilsberg, and Friedland, the scene of his 
greatest military glory ; he reviewed numerous divisions, 
visited the fortress of Pillau, and a few days afterwards, 
marching with the centre of his army he passed along the 
Pregel as far as Gumbinnen. 

The Emperor hoped by these armaments to impose 
on Russia, and compel her to bend to his will, while he 
wished to rid himself of all who could establish order 
and cement peace. Alexander, on the other hand, by 
an excess of moderation, rare indeed amongst powerful 
monarchs, agreed that France should maintain a garrison 
in Dantzig; but he required with reason that Prussia 
should be evacuated, so that there should remain between 
the two Empires an independent State. Such were the 
wise and moderate stipulations which Napoleon called 
"an arrogant and altogether extraordinary demand," and 
upon the formal refusal of Russia to receive the embassy 
of General Lauriston without the acceptance of these 
preliminary conditions, he rushed into the room in a fury, 
and bellowed in the frantic manner which the slightest 
contradiction always evoked, " the vanquished give them- 
selves the airs of victors ; fatality impels them ; let destiny 
be fulfilled." And there and then, leaving Gumbinnen, 
he repaired to Wilkowiski (22nd June 181 2), where he 
issued the following proclamation as an order of the day : — 



" Soldiers ! — The second Polish war has commenced ; 
the first ended at Friedland and Tilsit. At Tilsit, Russia 
swore eternal alliance with France and war against 
England. To-day she violates her oaths ! She refuses 
to give any explanation of her strange conduct in de- 
manding that the French eagles shall repass the Rhine, 
thus leaving our allies to her mercy. 

" Russia is drawn on by Fate. Her destinies must be 
fulfilled. Does she, then, think us degenerates ; are we 
then no longer the soldiers of Austerlitz? She places us 
between dishonour and war. The choice cannot be 
doubtful. Forward then ! Let us pass the Niémen ; let 
us carry war into her territory. The second Polish war 
will be as glorious to the French arms as the first ; but 
the peace which we shall conclude will carry with it 
guarantees and put an end to the sinister influence which 
Russia for fifty years has exercised upon the affairs of 

This proclamation, remarkable for an excess of bluster 
and above all for the mania which Napoleon had for 
assuming in his utterances the pose of an oracle, reached 
us at Kalwary. Though it was merely a monotonous 
repetition of the ideas expressed on so many previous 
occasions, it excited the ardour of the troops, who are 
always ready to swallow anything which flatters their 
courage. Proud of being about to enter Russian territory 
they were delighted that in commencing the second 
Polish campaign they were about to leave behind them 
the river which had previously marked the limits of the 
first. The word Niémen inflamed the imagination, every 
one burned to cross it : and the desire was all the more 
natural, inasmuch as, apart from our spirit of conquest, the 
miserable condition of the Duchy of Warsaw added each 
day to our privations and sufferings ; and to put a stop to 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

our grumbling the enemy's country was held up to us as 
a promised land. 

The Russian army opposed to ours was formed into 
six grand corps : the first of 20,000 men was commanded 
by Count Wittgenstein, and occupied Rossina and 
Keidanoui. The second, under the orders of General 
Bagawout, also of 20,000 men, held Kowno. The third, 
of 24,000 strong, was at New-Troki, and was commanded 
by General Schomoaloff. The country between New- 
Troki and Lida was occupied by the fourth corps, 
commanded by General Tutschkoff. These four corps, 
with the guard at Wilna, formed what the Russians called 
" The First Army of the West." The second army was 
composed of the fifth corps, the strength of which 
amounted to 40,000 men ; of the sixth corps, that of 
Doctorow, numbering 18,000 men, and Platow's Cossacks. 
This second army, of which Prince Bagration was the 
commander-in-chief, was encamped at Grodno and Lida 
and distributed throughout the whole of Volhynia. 
General MarckofT organised in this province the ninth and 
fifteenth divisions, which were to form the seventh corps ; 
but this general, recalled to the army of the centre, resigned 
the command in Volhynia to General Tormasow, who 
created a new corps destined to act against the Duchy 
of Warsaw. 



The Niémen crossed — Alexander's impressive proclamation — Russians retire 
— Privations and difficulties begin — Terrible marching — Absence of 
Food — the Villages deserted and the country laid waste — Napoleon at 
Wilna — His tricks to deceive the Poles — " Organisation" of the conquered 
provinces — Polish Diet demands the liberation of Poland — Napoleon's 
disquietude — The Poles find him out. 

SUCH was the position of the Russians beyond the 
Niémen when the King of Naples, 1 who commanded 
the whole of our cavalry, removed his quarters two leagues 
on the other side of that river (23rd June), having with 
him the two corps of cavalry commanded by Generals 
Nansouty and Montbrun, each composed of three divisions. 
The first corps took position at the opening of the forest 
of Pilwisky. The second corps and the guard followed. 
The third, fourth and sixth corps advanced by Marienpol 
to the extent of one day's march. The King of Westphalia 
directed himself upon Grodno, with the fifth, seventh and 
eighth corps, by returning along the Narew, and faced the 
army commanded by Prince Bagration. 

The pontoons, under the orders of General of Artillery 
Eblé, arrived the same day close to the Niémen. Napoleon 
thereupon, in the disguise of a Polish soldier, examined 
from the heights which dominated Kowno the most 
suitable point at which to effect the passage of the river ; 
and towards eight o'clock in the evening the army placed 

1 Marshal Murat. 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

itself in motion ; three companies of voltigeurs of Morant's 
division crossed the Niémen, and protected the construction 
of three bridges, which were thrown across this river, 
where five years previously the two Emperors had sworn 
eternal friendship ! 

At dawn of day, that is about one in the morning, we 
were in Kowno. The general of division, Pajol, having 
pushed the advanced guard farther forward, sent a 
battalion to occupy the town, and drove before him the 
enemy's cavalry, which retreated as we advanced. During 
the 24th and 25th the army never ceased crossing the 
three bridges constructed in a single night. At the same 
time Napoleon, who had arrived at Kowno, ordered the 
construction of another bridge across the Wilia in the 
immediate vicinity, while the King of Naples marched 
towards Zismori, and Marshals the Prince of Eckmuhl 
and the Duke of Elchingen betook themselves, the first 
to Roumchichki and the other to Kormelow. Finally, on 
the next day (27th June) our light horse were only ten 
leagues from Wilna. 

The day following, towards two in the morning, the 
King of Naples continued his march, supported by 
General Bruyères' cavalry division and by the first corps. 
But the Russians retreated in all directions behind the 
Wilia, after having burnt the bridge, together with the 
magazines containing the food supplies. A deputation of 
the leading inhabitants of Wilna having presented them- 
selves before Napoleon, handed him the keys of the town, 
which he entered towards midday. Instead of remaining 
there, he rode to the outposts of General Bruyères to 
ascertain in what direction the enemy had retired. They 
were being pursued upon the left bank of the Wilia, when 
in a cavalry charge the hussar captain, Octave de Ségur 



was wounded, this distinguished officer being thus the 
first prisoner to fall into the hands of the Russians in this 

The place which Napoleon had selected for crossing 
the Niémen was extremely advantageous, Kowno being 
commanded by a high mountain situated upon the bank 
held by us, and descending abruptly to the town. Even 
had this position been less favourable for us, it was no 
part of the Russian plan of campaign to oppose them- 
selves to our initial efforts. It is stated with regard to 
this subject, that the Emperor Alexander had taken all 
the necessary measures to dispute the passage of the 
Niémen ; but at the moment when the attack was about 
to commence General Barclay de Tolly, throwing bimself 
at the feet of his master, implored him not to join issue 
with so formidable an army to whom no effective resist- 
ance could be made ; and urged him to allow Napoleon 
to pass like a torrent, reserving all their forces for the 
time when the enemy would begin to be weakened. I 
cannot vouch for the truth of this story, but thus much is 
certain : that Alexander, having remained for six weeks 
at Wilna, reviewed his armies, made elaborate arrange- 
ments, reconnoitred the principal positions on the Niémen 
that were capable of defence, and then suddenly abandoned 
this line without fighting, and ordered a retreat upon the 
Dwina and the Dnieper. 

On arriving at Wilna, we were enabled to read the 
proclamation which had been issued by the Emperor of 
Russia, when he learnt that the French troops had crossed 
the Niémen ; it displays so vividly the nobility and equity 
of this sovereign, that in comparing it with that of 
Napoleon, published at Wilkowiski, a complete insight 
can be obtained into the characters of those two potentates 

2 3 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

upon whom the eyes of the whole world were fixed. Here 
is the proclamation : 

Wilna, zyhjune 1812. 

" For a long time past we have observed, on the part 
of the Emperor of the French, manifestations of hostility 
against Russia ; but we have always hoped to assuage 
them by conciliatory and pacific means. At last, seeing 
the continual renewal of these manifest provocations, 
notwithstanding our desire to preserve tranquillity, we 
have been compelled to complete and to concentrate our 
armies. Nevertheless we still flattered ourselves that a 
reconciliation might be effected by remaining within the 
frontiers of our Empire, without violating the peace, and 
merely with the object of defending ourselves. All these 
conciliatory and pacific methods, however, have failed to 
preserve the repose which we desired. The Emperor of 
the French, in suddenly attacking our army at Kowno, 
has been the first to declare war. Seeing thus that 
nothing can make him accessible to the desire of main- 
taining peace, we have no alternative but to oppose our 
forces to those of the enemy, invoking the aid of the 
Almighty as the Witness and Defender of the Truth. 
It is unnecessary for me to remind the leaders, the officers 
and the soldiers, of their duty and their courage ; the blood 
of the valorous Slavs runs in their veins. Warriors ! you 
defend religion, fatherland and liberty. I am in the midst 
of you. God is against the aggressor." 

While our whole army was concentrating around Wilna, 
the second Russian corps under General Bagawout re- 
treated upon the Dwina ; Count Wittgenstein also retired 
upon Wilkomir, as the Duke of Reggio, by marching 
upon Janow and Chatoui, had forced him to abandon the 
Samogitie, On the 28th, an action took place close to 
Develtovo, the cannonade being very heavy. The enemy 
did not maintain his position ; driven by our troops as far 



as the Dwina, he recrossed the bridge over this river with 
such great precipitation that he had no time to burn it. 

The Russians were repulsed beyond the river, while 
the fifth, seventh and eighth corps, under Prince Poniatowski 
and the King of Westphalia, captured Grodno. The 
dilatoriness displayed by the latter in conducting his 
operations allowed the Second Army of the West, under 
Prince Bagration, to entrench itself in a strong position, 
and to withstand all our attacks. By the skilful use of 
numerous bodies of Cossacks under Platow, there is no 
doubt that he might long have held the provinces com- 
mitted to his charge, if, after the evacuation of Wilna, 
Bagration had not been ordered to return so as to effect a 
union with General Barclay de Tolly. With a view to 
preventing this junction, the Prince of Eckmiihl was 
immediately detached from our centre to march towards 
Minsk, and thence to direct the operations of the King of 
Westphalia, with which the Emperor was extremely dis- 
satisfied ; but Jerome, refusing to submit to an order which 
so grievously wounded his amour propre, threw up his 
command, and obtained permission to return to his 

On the 29th of June, the fourth corps, which had up 
to then remained in observation behind the Niémen, at 
last saw this longed-for river. On arriving at Pilony, the 
place selected for its passage, we found the Viceroy, the 
Duke of Abrantés, and all the staff, who, in very rainy 
weather, were engaged in constructing a bridge. The 
artillery of the Royal Guard were in position on the plateau 
which commanded the opposite bank ; a wise precaution, 
but unnecessary, as several reconnaissances beyond the 
Niémen proved that on that side all was perfectly quiet. 

We were relieved thenceforth from all anxiety as to 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

the success of the crossing, as Lt.-Col. Bataille, aide-de- 
camp to the Viceroy, who had been sent on a mission to 
Napoleon, informed us that our troops, after having passed 
without hindrance through the defile of Kowno as far as 
Roumchicki, had arrived at Zismori without fighting; 
that the Russians had only made a very feeble defence of 
their positions between Roui Kontoui and Wilna, and 
that above all, not having constructed any redoubt upon 
the heights, which are about two leagues beyond that 
town, the Emperor had made his entry on the 28th 
preceded by the Polish lancers of the 8th regiment, 
commanded by Prince Dominic Radziwill. The com- 
mandant reported that the suburbs had suffered a little 
from the operations of war, but that order having been 
promptly restored everything had resumed its normal 
course, and that this large and populous town not only 
afforded supplies for the army, but conditions favourable 
for Napoleon's designs. 

Our stay at Pilony, during very wet weather, was 
characterised by such extraordinary misfortunes, that, 
without being superstitious, every one looked upon them 
as a sinister omen of future misery. In this frightful 
village the Viceroy himself was without a lodging. We 
were huddled under wretched sheds, exposed to all the 
inclemency of the weather. The scarcity of provisions 
seemed to foreshadow what we should one day have to 
endure from the horrors of famine ; the rain descending in 
torrents, overwhelmed men and horses, who were absolutely 
without shelter ; the former survived, but the latter were 
destroyed, All round our bivouacs they could be seen 
lying dead in hundreds, while on the roads nothing was 
to be seen but dead horses, waggons overturned, baggage 
scattered all about ; and it was in the month of June that 



we experienced these horrors of cold, rain and want ! This 
storm prevailed everywhere and continued the whole night ; 
it is said that at Zismori a thunderbolt falling in the 
camp of the infantry of the guard destroyed several men. 
Such disasters were of gloomy augury for the future ; 
there was universal apprehension, but the sun appearing 
once more upon the horizon dispersed the clouds, and 
from that moment the fine weather appeared as if it would 
be unending. 

The day following (30th June), the thirteenth and 
fourteenth divisions, commanded by Generals Delzons 
and Broussiers, peaceably effected their passage. The 
Royal Guard, under General Theodore Lecchi, followed by 
Pino's division, crossed on the 1st of July, and thus all the 
combined Italian troops passed over the Niémen in presence 
of the Viceroy. They responded to this honour with 
spontaneous acclamations, and the Prince must, on his 
part, have experienced great satisfaction in seeing the 
soldiers whom he had trained pass into the enemy's 
territory ; but above all, in observing that at six hundred 
leagues from their native land they maintained the same 
order and discipline as when exercising in front of his 

Hardly had we set foot on the opposite bank, when we 
seemed to be breathing a new air ; the roads, however, 
were pretty bad, the forests gloomy and the villages 
deserted ; but our imagination, excited by the spirit of 
conquest, led us to view everything with enchantment ! 

After a two hours' march over marshy ground, we 
arrived at the hamlet of Kroui, the château and houses of 
which are built of wood. I note this fact for the last time, 
for in Russia all the villages are so constructed ; when 

they are otherwise built I will record the circumstance. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

We found here some brandy, which the soldiers pillaged 
with avidity. As there were no Jews among the in- 
habitants the houses were deserted, which showed us that 
the enemy, desirous of desolating the country on our 
whole line of march, had taken the inhabitants and the 
cattle away with them. 

The next morning (2nd July) we received orders to 
march on Zismori to rejoin the high road by which the 
Emperor had passed. On arriving at that large hamlet, 
we only found there some Jews terrified at the horrible 
tumult occasioned by our passage. Our original instruc- 
tions were to halt there, but on the arrival of the Viceroy, 
the staffcontinued its march to establish itself at Melangani, 
leaving Pino's division at Zismori, and those of Generals 
Delzons and Broussier in the environs of Strasounoui. 
The day following (3rd July) we marched towards 
Rouicontoui, a wretched village where on the left we 
beheld a little wooden château. The Prince did not stop 
there, but went to sleep at a farm close to where the road 
branches off to New-Troki. 

We were disagreeably surprised at seeing our advance 
guard leaving the road to Wilna and taking that to New- 
Troki ; every one exclaimed against this contretemps \ saying 
that a fatality seemed to attach to our corps, which, having 
need of repose, found itself forbidden to enter a town 
where we expected to refresh ourselves after a long and 
painful march. This hope having been dissipated, we 
sought to console ourselves by the idea that we should be 
directed to Witepsk and Smolensk, and that these two 
cities would enable us to forget Wilna. 

After weary hours of continuous marching through 
forests and over muddy tracks, we at last arrived at New- 
Troki (4th July), situated on a hill and surrounded by 



lakes. This pleasing situation offered a striking contrast 
to the country we had traversed, and everybody remarked 
the fine effect produced by a large convent built upon the 
summit of the mountain which commanded the town. 
Others were struck with the density of the forests, and the 
clearness of the water which never froze. All those who 
had artistic tastes were lost in admiration of this lovely 
country. In the midst of the lake stood an ancient château 
in ruins, the embrowned mass of which projected on one 
side over the surface of the water, and on the other stood 
out against the rosy sky. 

Troki appeared to be an enchanted resting-place ; but 
the illusion ceased the moment we entered it. Scarcely 
had we reached the first houses, when a troop of Jews, 
followed by women, children and old men with long 
beards, threw themselves at our feet to implore us to 
deliver them from the rapacity of the soldiery, who, 
swarming through the houses, stole or destroyed every- 
thing they could lay their hands upon. We could only 
give these poor wretches very cold comfort. The town 
contained no magazines, and our soldiers who had for so 
long been without rations only subsisted on what they 
could pillage. This gave rise to an extreme disorder, 
fatal to discipline, which is almost invariably the certain 
precursor of the ruin of an army. 

The houses in Troki had been dismantled by the 
inhabitants, who, in fleeing, had carried off everything 
Those of the Jews, disgusting by their filth, were sacked 
by our troops, so that this place, so delightful in its 
aspect, was,, so far as we were concerned, associated with 
everything repulsive; we could not even find straw on 
which to lie down, and it was necessary to go a distance 
of four leagues to obtain fodder for the horses. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

As it seemed probable that we should have to stay at 
Troki, the headquarters of the army having been established 
at Wilna, the Viceroy repaired to that town, where he had 
long conferences with the Emperor. Several officers also 
obtained leave to go there; and there it was that one 
could see the tricks which Napoleon resorted to in order 
to assure success. By the most gaudy promises he 
roused the enthusiasm of the populace, and thus ob- 
tained from them the greatest sacrifices. The nobility 
also seconded with all their power those who asserted 
that they were fighting to secure the independence of 
Poland and restore to her the splendour of the times of 
Ladislas and Sigismund. 

The sight of the Polish standards planted on the walls 
of the ancient capital of the Dukes of Lithuania evoked the 
enthusiasm of all the inhabitants, and thrilling memories 
of the ancient glory of their country. Nothing could be 
more stimulating to ideas of greatness than to see on the 
banks of the Wilia the same warriors who had consecrated 
their time of exile and added lustre to the Polish name on 
the banks of the Nile, the Tiber, the Tagus and the Danube. 
On all hands the air resounded with cries of joy ; wherever 
they went the people followed them in crowds ; every one 
wished to gaze on them ; to engrave on their hearts the 
image of those brave compatriots, and to march under 
the same flag. 

Napoleon having received the members of the 
University in a body, inquired of the rector as to the 
different sciences which were taught in this celebrated 
seat of learning. He next resolved to reorganise the 
civil administration, entirely upset by the departure of 
the functionaries, and by the removal of the archives 
of the town. After the French fashion he divided the 



invaded provinces into prefectures, appointed inspectors, 
receivers, commissaries of police, and above all in- 
tendants to accelerate the receipt of the numerous 
requisitions. But that which he had most at heart was 
to induce the Lithuanians to make a levy en masse, in 
order to form new corps. To all peasants who would 
revolt against their masters he offered arms, and sought, 
as at the commencement of our Revolution, to stir up 
civil war between the populace and the nobility. 

These measures had a certain effect in the town where 
the Emperor commanded in person, but in the hamlets 
and the country districts they resulted in nothing favour- 
able to his plans. Nevertheless, Napoleon did not allow 
a day to pass without urging the Lithuanians to aid him. 
In order to impose upon them, he endeavoured to astonish 
the vulgar. In the same audience he would speak of shows 
and of religion ; of war and the arts ; then mounting his 
horse, he would rush about at all hours of the day; then 
he would return to his cabinet, after having ordered the 
construction of a bridge or some fortifications ; and 
finally, in the middle of the most serious occupations, 
he would affect to concern himself with matters of utter 

The Commission formed for the general administration 
of the whole of Lithuania was at first composed of only 
five members, but Napoleon increased the number as his 
partisans multiplied. The day on which this Commission 
was established he issued three proclamations. The first, 
which was addressed to the People, announced the in- 
stallation of the Provisional Government, and emphasised 
the gratitude which was due to its creator. The second 
urged the clergy to stimulate the zeal of the nation, and 
by fervent prayers to obtain from God blessings and mercy. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

The third, having for its object the recall of the Lithuanians 
in the Russian service, was couched as follows : — 

" POLES ! — You are under the Russian flag : this service 
was permissible so long as you had no longer a country, 
but to-day all is changed. Poland has been resuscitated ; 
it is for her complete restoration that we now fight ; it is 
to compel the Russians to recognise the rights of which 
you have been deprived by injustice and usurpation. 
The general confederation of Poland and of Lithuania 
recals all Poles from the service of Russia. Generals, 
officers and soldiers of Poland ! hearken to the voice of 
your country; abandon the banners of your oppressors; 
hasten to our side so that you may range yourselves under 
the eagle of Jagellon, Casimir and Sobieski ! The country 
demands it ; honour and religion give the same command." 

The Committee of the government established at 
Wilna, which without doubt only lent itself to Napoleon's 
designs with the object of alleviating the misery of the 
People so afflicted with the horrors of war, occupied itself 
with indefatigable zeal in promoting the success of the 
administration. The department of Wilna had already 
been formed, and the invaded territory divided into eleven 
sub-prefectures. This organisation, so advantageous in 
appearance, was productive of no good results : the 
country districts were ravaged ; the villages were deserted, 
all the peasantry had fled into the woods, and no one was 
seen but a few miserable Jews, clothed in rags, who, 
prompted by the spirit of avarice, preferred to expose 
themselves to the violence of our soldiers rather than 
abandon their squalid homes. As an illustration of the 
disorder which reigned in the midst of this pretended 
administration, I may mention that the sub-prefect of 
New Troki, coming from Wilna to take up his duties, 



was stopped by stragglers, who stripped him of his 
belongings. His own escort consumed his provisions 
and stole his horses, and he arrived on foot and in such 
a miserable condition, that everybody took for a spy the 
man who had come to be the magistrate of the town. 

The brilliant hopes which had at first been conceived 
commenced to be damped when it was seen that the leader 
of our expedition aspired to a new crown ; and that 
powerless to establish anything on a firm basis, he talked 
of nothing but the conquest of vast provinces, and the 
subjection to a common law and the same sceptre of 
countries differing in toto in their customs and their 
physical condition. Shutting his eyes to the absence of 
discipline in his armies, he caused the ruin of the rich 
and the despair of the poor, and finally reduced the 
Lithuanians to regard as their oppressor the man who 
had announced himself as their liberator. As to ourselves, 
he accumulated on our heads the hate of every nation 
thus causing the crushing weight of his tyranny to fall 
on those who were its chief victims. 

While all these events were happening at Wilna, 
Warsaw witnessed a spectacle which would have been 
magnificent had it not been prompted by a man who 
played fast and loose with the enthusiasm of nations, and 
whose undigested schemes failed for want of a little 
reflection and wisdom. The unhappy Poles, misled by 
bombastic promises, assembled in their capital (28th 
June) and formed a Diet. The assembly having met, 
a committee drew up an eloquent report, and an orator 
enlarged upon the importance of the duties which had 
been confided to them. In his exordium he reminded 
his audience that in days gone by, Poland, situated in 
the centre of Europe, had been a famous Nation, mistress 
Ç 33 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

of a vast and fertile territory, made illustrious by the 
twofold glories of war and art ; maintaining for centuries 
with unconquerable determination the barriers which the 
barbarians sought to break through in order to enslave 
the civilised world. He said that the crown of Poland 
had been the object of general ambition as the highest 
of honours, and that if discord sometimes broke out, 
these passing clouds only overshadowed Poland herself 
and never carried tempest into foreign lands. He next 
gave a long recital of all the miseries which had been 
endured by their beloved country through Russian 
ambition, by successive partitions, which were an outrage 
against a once powerful nation ; above all, he recalled the 
final calamity, when Poland saw herself annihilated by a 
triple partition, and when Warsaw heard, amidst the horrid 
yells of a ferocious conqueror, the groans of the population 
of Praga, who were exterminated by sword and fire. He 
showed that this triumph of brute force had destroyed the 
moral rights of nations, and that expediency having thus 
been established as the basis of the government of the 
world, would in future be the sole standard of international 
morality. Lastly, that Russia, trampling without inter- 
mission on Poland, was gradually advancing towards 
Germany, which she aspired to dominate. 

After this rapid review, the orator recited, in language 
perhaps less glowing but not less energetic, all the reasons 
which should unite Poland to France. " Europe," he said, 
"requires repose after twenty-five years of disturbance. 
Her system will be incomplete, the reward of her sweat 
and blood cannot be assured, so long as the caverns of the 
north can vomit forth upon her the hordes whose nature 
can no longer be disguised. They are no longer the men 
whom necessity drove from their savage dens, impelling 



them towards those happier lands which offered them 
enjoyments unknown to their inhospitable clime. In 
them a blind instinct took the place of the arts which 
refine and defend civilised peoples ; but here, alongside 
of this barbarism, are found the arts of a polished nation. 
Russia has availed herself of the service of Europeans ; 
she has learnt from them all that is necessary for attack 
and defence, to create and destroy. From every point of 
view Russia has made herself the equal of Europe in order 
to become her master. At home, superstitious and docile 
slaves are the instruments of a government accustomed to 
every crime. For a century past at its command their 
sinews have strained to undermine all the dams whose 
destruction is threatened by this raging torrent. How 
often have not the Russians burst through those barriers, 
either for their own selfish aims or at the insane invita- 
tion of princes, against whom they bore weapons con- 
cealed beneath their treacherous assistance! For fifty 
years past Russia has repeatedly deluged southern Europe 
with her armies. The Empire of Constantinople remains 
shattered upon her half-extinguished crescent." 

He ended with this impassioned peroration : " Hence- 
forth the sons of the Peasts and the Jagellons can re- 
possess themselves of the name of which their ancestors 
were so proud ; the name before which those will tremble 
who for a time, by fraud and violence, have made them- 
selves our masters. Ah, doubt not that this land, once so 
prolific of heroes, is about to recover all her glory. She 
will again bring forth another Sigismund, another Sobieski ; 
her star will burn with a brighter and a purer lustre, and 
the nations brought to do us justice will recognise that to 
flourish in the soil of Poland, the seeds of all the virtues 
have only to be cultivated by an emancipated people." 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

The Commission then submitted the Act of Confedera- 
tion, the principal clauses of which were directed to the 
constitution of a new kingdom constructed out of those 
portions of ancient Poland which had been torn from her, 
and to the recall of all Poles from the service of Russia. 
Finally, it was arranged that a deputation should wait 
upon the Emperor of the French to secure his powerful 
protection for the cradle of renascent Poland. 

This deputation, on being admitted to his presence 
(nth July) on the eve of his departure from Wilna, sub- 
mitted to him the Act of Confederation of which we have 
spoken ; but the conqueror only made evasive promises, 
and was perhaps shocked that the noble Polish nation did 
not grovel at his feet to obtain the honour of forming part 
of the great Empire. The freedom which was demanded 
appeared to cause him uneasiness and surprise ; he seemed 
to dread the moment when this assembly which he had 
convoked, and which appeared to second his designs, 
might become not altogether subservient to his will, for 
the distinctive character of tyrants is never to do good 
except with misgiving; often to take umbrage at their 
own creations, and to resent all independence even when 
it is the work of their own hands. Napoleon, therefore, 
promised nothing, and exacted as a preliminary enormous 
sacrifices, and a devotion which the Poles were not in- 
clined to offer until they had assured the certainty of 
their future welfare. Even before his arrival Napoleon 
had demanded that the provinces subjected to Russia 
should declare for him, and finally he gave it to be 
understood that Gallicia must be renounced, as he had 
guaranteed to Austria the integrity of her dominions. 

If all these vast projects had been conceived by a 
sober brain, more mindful of the welfare of the peoples 



than of selfish ambition, there can be no doubt that 
gigantic as they were, they might have been accom- 
plished. Napoleon had reached such a height of power 
that it was no longer necessary for him to achieve his 
objects by means of war. With an adroit, prudent and 
above all brilliant policy, he could have made durable 
conquests even more extensive than those which he had 
accomplished by force of arms ; it is here that posterity 
will recognise that he was blinded by an excess of pro- 
sperity, since he employed the most tremendous weapons 
only to precipitate his fall, while he might have achieved 
success without risking anything or compromising himself 
But, foe to all that required patience and reflection, he 
i recognised nothing but force, and Heaven decreed that 
he should in his turn be crushed by the very force which 
had up to then been the foundation of his power. 

Thus the brave Poles, despairing of their country, 
looked on all these plans as chimerical, when they saw 
that Napoleon, with an ambition more excessive but less 
honest than that of Charles XII., aspired to the Crown of 
Poland, and that he only offered them his support in order 
to profit by their hatred of Russia. And this fortunate 
conqueror, insecurely seated on the most glorious throne 
in Europe, seemed to show by his disquiet that he was 
conscious of being unworthy of the supreme rank to which 
fortune had raised him. Instead of maintaining himself 
there by the exercise of justice, and by the glamour in- 
spired by the encouragement of art and science, he thought 
to overturn the world, and from north to south renew those 
savage wars of the Middle Ages when despots only reigned 
by fomenting trouble and discord, and by promising their 
subjects the plunder of their neighbours. 




Pursuit of Russians through bogs and forests — Dreadful privations of French 
army — Mortality among horses — Russian proclamation to French army — 
Parthian tactics. 

WHILE Napoleon remained at Wilna, the Prince of 
Eckmuhl was sent towards Minsk, with instruc- 
tions actively to pursue Bagration, who was endeavouring 
to effect a junction with the army of Barclay de Tolly. 
By this movement we prevented that general from gaining 
the Dwina, and drove him towards Mohilow upon the 
Dnieper, continually harassed by the first corps and by 
Grouchy's cavalry. All our other corps, composing the 
centre, had followed the direction of Dinabourg. As to 
the fourth, the two French divisions and the Royal Guard 
took the road through Paradomin to Ochmiana ; but the 
Viceroy, Pino's division and all the cavalry, marched upon 
Rudniki. This last movement appeared necessary owing 
to advices that the Hetman Platow, at the head of four 
thousand Cossacks, finding himself separated from the 
corps of Bagration, would be forced to debouch by the 
Lida road in order to effect his junction with the Russian 
army which had evacuated Wilna. On receiving this in- 
formation the Viceroy put himself en route (7th July); 
but the road to Rudniki was found to be so bad that the 



cavalry of the Royal Guard was obliged to seek another. 
It is impossible indeed to give an idea of the difficulties 
which were presented by this road, formed entirely of 
trunks of fir trees laid upon marshy ground. In marching 
over these trunks the horses separated them, and falling 
between the openings, broke their legs. If, in order to 
avoid this difficulty, we attempted to pass either on the 
right or the left, we were engulfed in the bog, from which 
it was impossible to emerge. 

The staff, after having lost several horses of its escort, 
managed to get through this dangerous passage, and 
arrived at Rudniki in the middle of the night. On the 
morrow (8th July) we continued our march towards 
Jachounoui, to regain the high road ; thence we went to 
Mal-Solechniki ; but the Prince would not halt there, and 
rode on at a brisk trot to sleep at Bol-Solechniki, where 
he hoped to receive some news about the Cossacks whom 
he had been instructed to pursue. On the day following, 
we continued our route and got as far as a fort near 

Circumstances here compelled the Viceroy to halt. 
The nature of the roads had prevented the thirteenth and 
fourteenth divisions, as well as the Italian troops, from 
following us, so that only the light horse remained with 
us. The order of march, which had been sent to them, 
was, owing to a misunderstanding of the messenger, re- 
turned to General Dessoles, our chief of the staff, in 
consequence of which those troops, being without instruc- 
tions, remained in their positions while it was believed 
they were on the march. Finding that they did not arrive, 
officers of intelligence were dispatched in all directions, 
who, after a diligent search, succeeded in withdrawing 
Pino's division from the morass of Rudniki and conducted 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

it towards Ochmiana. The Viceroy, on his part, having 
searched vigilantly for the Cossacks, retraced his steps, 
and in his march to Jachounoui picked up the thirteenth 
and fourteenth divisions, which next day (12th July) 
debouched at Smorghoni, and united themselves at last 
with the rest of the troops composing the fourth corps. 

The town of Smorghoni is of considerable size, although 
almost all its houses are of wood. A small stream, crossed 
by a bridge, separates the fort from the town. The Jews, 
who form nearly the whole of the population, are much 
addicted to trade ; and this town, although very depressing, 
was welcome to the whole army for the sole reason that 
we were there able to purchase bread and beer. 

The day's rest which we enjoyed at Smorghoni was 
employed in the construction of a bridge across the 
Narotsch, to enable us to proceed direct to Vileika. This 
work had hardly been completed when our instructions 
were altered, and the major part of the troops marched 
upon Zechkevitschi, where we passed the night. 

(15th July.) The road to the large village of Vileika 
is very sandy, and runs through woods. Just before 
reaching this hamlet we crossed the Wilia on a bridge of 
rafts. This river is here of no great size or depth, but 
its banks are very steep, especially the one on which 
stands Vileika. On entering the village, General Colbert, 
commanding the advance-guard, took possession of some 
abandoned magazines. As the enemy had only recently 
quitted this position, the Viceroy redoubled his vigilance 
for fear of a surprise, and took particular care in the 
selection of a camping-ground. 

While we marched on Vileika, the King of Naples, 
supported by the second and third corps, drove the First 
Army of the West from position to position behind the 



Dwina, and compelled it to retreat to the entrenched 
camp of Drissa. On our right, the Prince of Eckmiihl 
continued to follow Prince Bagration. and had arrived at 
Borisow on the Beresina without fighting. Towards our 
extreme left Marshal the Duke of Taranto also obtained 
some signal advantages, and took entire possession of the 

This behaviour of the enemy, in always fleeing before 
us, was variously interpreted. To some it appeared the 
effect of weakness, to others the result of a premeditated 
plan. "Where," said the former, "are these Russians who 
for fifty years have been the terror of Europe and the 
vanquishers of Asia? The power of Russia is nothing 
but a fraud, concocted by subsidised scribblers or lying 
travellers. It exists only in the imagination, and her 
prestige has vanished the moment we have attacked her." 
But those whom experience had accustomed to penetrate 
the future replied, that it was not wise to despise an 
unbeaten enemy ; that of a surety his flight was deliberate, 
with the object of reducing our forces, and depriving us of 
the means of recruiting them by luring us far from our 
own country. " It is on the elements," said these sagacious 
reasoners, " that the Muscovites rely as their most potent 
allies. Why should they seek to fight us, when they 
know that Winter will force us to abandon all our 
i conquests?" 

The enemy himself explained the motive for his retreat 
by disseminating broadcast, on the banks of the Dwina, 
the following proclamation : — 

"Soldiers of the French Army! — You are being 
forced to plunge into a new war ; it is sought to persuade 
you that it is because the Russians refuse to do justice to 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

your valour. No, comrades ; they recognise it, as you will 
one day see on the field of battle. Remember that, if 
necessary, one army will succeed another, and that you 
are four hundred leagues from your base. Do not be 
deceived as to our first movements ; you know the Russians 
too well to suppose that they flee before you ; they will 
accept battle and it will be difficult for you to retreat. 
We tell you, as comrades — return to your native land en 
masse ; do not believe the mendacious statement that you 
are fighting to secure peace. No, you fight for the insati- 
able ambition of a sovereign who does not desire peace 
(otherwise he could long since have obtained it), and who 
plays with the blood of the brave. Return to your homes ; 
or if, meanwhile, you desire an asylum in Russia, you can 
there forget such words as conscription and levies, and all 
that military tyranny which never permits you for an 
instant to escape from its yoke." 

This document contained such undoubted truths that 
every one was astounded that its circulation was permitted. 
Others regarded it as spurious, and believed that it had 
been drawn up to evoke " the reply of a French grenadier," 
and it would have been a subject of pleasantry in the 
army, and of contempt for the enemy, had it not been 
long known that a blind obedience towards his leaders is 
the first virtue of the soldier, and that every Frenchman, 
true to his flag, makes it a point of honour to fight to the 
death all who are held up to him as the enemies of his 

In continuing our movement we arrived at Kostene- 
vitschi, a wretched little village where, with the exception 
of the post office and the house of the parish priest, there 
was nothing but a few tumble-down hovels thatched with 
straw. The Royal Guard encamped around this village, 
although the Viceroy had established his quarters two 



leagues farther on. On the following day (17th July), 
after a five hours' march by a fairly good road, we arrived 
at the town of Dolghinow, the population of which 
consisted almost entirely of Jews ; and this enabled us to 
procure a few bottles of brandy. Our continual march 
and a long absence of this stimulant impel me to 
mention an apparently insignificant fact ; but from the 
importance which we attached to it one can judge of the 
extent of our needs and the difficulties of satisfying them. 

We next marched upon Dokzice, about seven leagues 
distant. This town, the population of which also consisted 
of Jews, is well built and contains a church and a small 
wooden château. The extremities of the town are sit- 
uated upon two hills, between which runs a small marshy 
rivulet. On the day of our arrival we noticed thick 
smoke arising behind the château in which the Prince 
was quartered. The flames quickly burst out in all 
directions, and devoured in an instant several of the neigh- 
bouring houses ; but the army took prompt measures to 
extinguish the fire, which was rapidly got under, thus 
relieving all apprehensions. 

Since quitting, near Smorghoni, the road to Minsk 
and the Dnieper, we had turned off to the left in order to 
gain the Dwina, and follow the movement of the centre 
of the Grand Army, which was marching in that direction. 
General Sebastiani, commanding the advance-guard, drove 
the Cossacks as far as the Dwina, supported by the corps 
of the Duke of Reggio ; but the enemy, who were within 
their entrenched camp at Drissa, having learnt that our 
chasseurs were off their guard, threw a bridge across the 
river, over which there passed five thousand infantry and 
as many cavalry, commanded by General Koulniew, and 
in the combat which followed General Saint Guriez was 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

surprised and taken prisoner, and the rest of his brigade 
saved themselves after sustaining considerable losses. 

In approaching Beresina where we were to sleep 
(20th July) the road continually ascended, conducting us 
gradually to the river of that name, which flows through 
the most marshy plain in Europe. In leaving this town, 
all the houses of which are built in a single line, the road 
continued through a species of peat, over which branches 
of fir trees had been placed to solidify it, leaving openings 
to allow the water to flow through. 

From the Beresina up to the Oula the ground was 
always very boggy. The road which runs alongside one 
or the other of these rivers, forms a line of twenty to 
twenty-five leagues, passing continually through marshes 
and immense forests. Pouichna was one of our halting 
places, as was also Kamen ; the first of these hamlets is re- 
markable for a large wooden château ; the second for a con- 
siderable eminence, situated in its midst, which commands 
the whole plain. At Botscheikovo we struck the banks 
of the Oula (23rd July). This river is connected with the 
Beresina by the Lepel canal, which is much used for trade, 
and all the more useful in that it affords communication 
with the waters of the Dnieper and the Dwina, uniting 
thus the Baltic and the Mediterranean. It gives life to 
the interior of Lithuania by bearing on its surface the 
products of the most divergent climates, and by facilitating 
the exportation of native commodities. The Oula runs 
between very high banks. Beyond the bridge there is a 
magnificent château, the finest we had seen since our 
entry into Poland. 

It was with surprise that we continued so rapid a 
march without fighting. The Russians adopted with 
regard to us the tactics of the Parthians towards the 



Romans. Being unable to contend against the con- 
querors of the world, they lured them into the interior of 
their country, burning and destroying all that could be 
serviceable to the enemy, so as to inflict on him the 
horrors of famine and all the bitterness of a rigorous 
climate. We advanced every day without hindrance, and 
with as much security as if we were traversing Bavaria or 



Uneasiness created by continued retreat of Russians — Difficulties in crossing 
the Dwina — Desultory engagements — Action near Witepsk — Russians 
again retreat — Occupation of Witepsk. 

THE impunity accorded us by our adversaries ap- 
peared altogether incomprehensible, and the most 
contrary and often entirely erroneous conjectures were 
expressed as to its meaning. However, since our crossing 
at Kamen several officers who had been sent to Ouchatsch, 
where the Emperor was established, reported that Generals 
Lefebvre and Nansouty, having taken Disna and Polotsk, 
had forced the enemy to abandon his entrenched camp of 
Drissa, and hastily to ascend the Dwina towards Witepsk, 
so as to avoid being cut off by our corps, which, passing 
along the two banks, advanced against that town. The 
orders which they brought led us to conclude that we 
should soon encounter resistance. These conjectures 
were soon turned into certainty, when reconnaissances 
made towards the mouth of the Oula and upon the road 
to Bezinkovitschi proved that the Cossacks were hovering 
on our flanks. The Viceroy at once sent forward the 
advance-guard and the light horse to the banks of the 
Dwina (23rd July), where the Russians had assembled 
in considerable strength, under the orders of General 

Shortly afterwards, the Prince mounted his horse, 



accompanied by his aides-de-camp, and followed the 
movement of the advance - guard. On arriving at 
Bezinkovitschi the enemy retreated and passed the Dwina 
at this point with the cavalry and a few guns. While we 
were in this town, the Russian sharpshooters, ambushed 
in the houses of the village on the other side of the river, 
harassed us with a continual fusillade ; and it was here that 
Col. Lacroix, passing through the principal street leading 
to the river, received a shot that broke his leg. After this 
reconnaissance the Viceroy returned to sleep at the 
château of Botscheiko. During the evening he had long 
conferences with General Dessolles, which led to the 
supposition that a night march was in contemplation, but 
the order was not issued until the following day. 

(24th July.) After a march of five hours and crossing 
a little stream called the Svetscha, our force arrived at 
Bezinkovitschi. This small town was already full of 
troops, mainly the two divisions of cavalry under Generals 
Bruyères and Saint-Germain, who had come by the Oula 
road. This large body of troops, marching upon Witepsk, 
had little effect in dismaying the enemy, who, separated 
from us by the Dwina, boldly manoeuvred his cavalry and 
fired on our voltigeurs, who advanced to seize the ferry- 
boat which had been removed to the other bank. 

The Viceroy having been ordered to make a feigned 
crossing at this point, placed two guns in position to 
protect the sappers charged with the construction of 
the bridge, and the marines of the Royal Guard under 
Captain Tempié. These brave men, animated by their 
leader, threw themselves into the water, and in spite of 
the enemy's fire, endeavoured to capture the ferry-boat. 
At last our batteries and some sharpshooters placed upon 
the bank succeeded in overawing the Russians to such an 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

extent that they evacuated the houses in which they were 
concealed, and allowed us to bring back the boat un- 
molested, and complete the bridge which was being con- 
structed by our engineers. 

In this interval a division of Bavarian cavalry under 
General Preyssing, having discovered a ford two hundred 
paces below the bridge, effected a passage. The river had 
hardly been passed when the squadrons ranged in order 
of battle were supported by several companies of infantry 
which had crossed by the ferry ; they placed themselves 
in motion, driving the enemy before them, who at our 
approach took to flight, burning everything behind them. 

We were watching these manœuvres, when a report 
was spread that the Emperor was about to arrive. The 
courier who had brought the news was followed immedi- 
ately by another, who confirmed it; next came some 
saddle - horses, artillery officers, and generals of the 
Guard; then the town, which was already full of troops, 
was in a few minutes crowded ; and in the middle of the 
tumult Napoleon appeared. On his arrival he descended 
to the river where the bridge was being erected. He 
drily condemned its construction, and then crossed the 
bridge, joining the Bavarians who had halted in the 
middle of the plain. Marching with them, he instructed 
them to advance and then returned to Bezinkovitschi. 
There is no question that he took this course in order to 
draw the enemy's attention to this point, so as to diminish 
opposition when he attacked Witepsk by the opposite 
bank ; or perhaps in the hope of disturbing the march of 
the Russian army in its return up the Dwina after it had 
left its entrenched camp at Drissa. 

It is impossible to realise the tumult which reigned at 
Bezinkovitschi as the general staff arrived. This con- 



fusion increased in the middle of the night. The number 
of troops which flocked in from all sides, and the rapidity 
with which they were sent forward, left no doubt that we 
were on the eve of a battle. The cavalry commanded by 
the King of Naples formed the advance-guard ; Delzons' 
division (the thirteenth) followed immediately in support. 

(25th July). Orders having been received to march 
to Ostrowno, our staff was proceeding thither when we 
heard a heavy cannonade, and soon after one of General 
Delzons' aides-de-camp arrived at full gallop, and an- 
nounced to Prince Eugene that the enemy had been 
encountered near Ostrowno, and that an obstinate combat 
was in progress at the moment of his departure. The 
aide-de-camp had hardly finished his report when the 
din of cannon was redoubled, and the Viceroy promptly 
ordered a halt of the baggage train, and, followed only by 
his principal officers, hastened towards Ostrowno to join 
the King of Naples, who had with him the cavalry 
divisions of Bruyères and Saint-Germain, supported by the 
infantry of the thirteenth division. On arriving, however 
at Soritza, the action was found to be over ; fourteen guns 
had fallen into our hands, and the large number of dead 
left upon the field testified to the resistance of the 
vanquished, and to the valour of the 7th and 8th Hussars, 
who on this occasion covered themselves with glory. 

At three o'clock in the morning (26th July) the Prince 
repaired to the King of Naples at Ostrowno. The fourth 
corps encamped around him, and the cavalry, placed in 
advance, watched the manoeuvres of the enemy. Towards 
six o'clock the chiefs of the army, followed by their 
respective staffs, marched towards the outposts, and went 
over the ground where the combat had occurred on the 
previous evening. They had hardly traversed it when 
D 49 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

reports were received that Ostermann's corps, comprising 
two divisions, was in position, and the Viceroy directed 
the thirteenth and fourteenth divisions to support the 
cavalry commanded by the King of Naples. The hussars 
sent out as scouts, having discovered obstructions at the 
entrance to a wood, returned to inform us that the enemy 
appeared resolved to defend it obstinately. As a matter 
of fact, the firing of skirmishers was heard on all sides, and 
the Russian cannon, stationed on the route, enfiladed our 
foremost columns. General Danthouard immediately 
advanced our guns, and it was in this exchange of shots 
that the captain of the 8th Hussars, Ferrari, former aide- 
de-camp to the Prince of Neuchatel, 1 had a leg carried 
away. The King of Naples, galloping to all points where 
his presence would be useful, ordered an attack to be 
delivered by our left, with the object of dispersing the 
cavalry stationed at the extremity of a wood. Although 
this movement was well conceived, it had by no means 
the successful result which was expected. The hussars, 
to whom its execution was entrusted, not being in 
sufficient strength, found themselves obliged to retire, 
but in perfect order and without loss, before numerous 
squadrons who were preparing to charge. 

While these operations were proceeding on the left, 
the Russians attempted to break our right, which the 
Viceroy perceiving, sent against them the thirteenth 
division, which successfully checked their progress. Our 
artillery, advantageously posted upon some rising ground, 
secured our line from being forced. 

Our right seemed well guarded, when a sudden attack 
accompanied by appalling yells was made upon our left 
and centre. The enemy, advancing en masse, had driven 

1 Marshal Berthier. 


in our skirmishers posted in the wood, and forced the 
artillery to retreat with precipitation, while the Russian 
cavalry took advantage of level ground upon our left to 
deliver a vigorous charge upon the Croats and the 84th 
Regiment. Fortunately, the King of Naples arrived in 
time to check the movement. Two battalions of the 
1 06th, held in reserve, supported the Croats, while General 
Danthouard, combining in the highest degree ability and 
courage, and Captain Bonardelle, revived the spirits of the 
artillerymen, and by skilful dispositions enabled them 
to resume the offensive, which they had temporarily 

Matters having been restored upon the left and the 
centre, the King of Naples and Prince Eugene visited the 
right wing and put it into action. The Russians, con- 
cealed in a wood, opposed the strongest resistance to the 
92nd Regiment, which, although posted on an advantageous 
eminence, remained inactive. In order to stimulate it the 
Viceroy sent the adjutant, Commandant Forestier, who 
succeeded in inducing it to advance; but its march 
seemed to be too slow for the fiery valour of the Duke of 
Abrantés ; and that intrepid general, accustomed to the 
chief command, left the Prince in order to infuse energy 
into the regiment upon whom all our eyes were fixed. 
His presence, or rather his example, electrified all hearts, 
and in a moment we saw the brave 92nd, headed by 
General Roussel, charge and overthrow all in their way, 
and penetrate into the wood which the enemy appeared 
to have barred against us. 

Upon our extreme right it was seen that a Russian 
column sent to turn us, had retreated as soon as we had 
captured the wood. The King of Naples then ordered 
the cavalry to charge this column in order to cut it off, 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

and compel it to lay down its arms ; the difficulties of the 
ground caused the cavalry to hesitate for a moment ; but 
the King, whose impetuous character would have desired 
the execution of the order to be as prompt as the thought, 
put spurs to his horse, and drawing his sword cried, in 
stirring tones, " Let the bravest follow me." This heroic 
action filled us with admiration ; every one hastened to 
second him, and we should have succeeded in capturing 
the column had not deep ravines and thick brushwood 
enabled it to escape and rejoin the corps from which it 
had been detached. 

Although the success of the combat was assured, it 
was still too risky to attempt to traverse the large wood 
in front of us, at the end of which were the hills of 
Witepsk, where it was said the whole of the Russian army 
was encamped. The matter was under consideration 
when a tremendous noise was heard in our rear. No one 
knew its cause, and anxiety was mixed with curiosity, 
when, beholding Napoleon in the midst of a brilliant 
suite, our fears were dissipated. From the enthusiasm 
which his presence always evoked, it was supposed that 
he was about to complete the glory of a successful day. 
The King of Naples and the Prince hastened to meet 
him, and informed him of the events which had occurred 
and the measures they had taken. Napoleon, the better 
to form an opinion, rode rapidly towards the most 
advanced posts of our line, and from an eminence ob- 
served for some time the enemy's positions and the nature 
of the ground. His piercing glance took in the Russian 
camp and penetrated their plans. Hence new disposi- 
tions, directed with complete sang froid and executed 
with order and rapidity, moved the army into the middle 
of the forest. Proceeding at full trot, we debouched at 



last towards the small hills of Witepsk at the moment 
when day began to close. 

The thirteenth division, which co-operated with this 
manœuvre on the right, in marching through the wood 
encountered a pretty strong resistance from the enemy, 
who only retreated gradually; and his numerous sharp- 
shooters made us pay dearly for the ground we gained. 

Broussier's division (the fourteenth) followed the high 
road, but arrived very late in the position selected between 
the road and the Dwina. As to the fifteenth division and 
the Italian guard, which formed the rest of the infantry 
of the fourth corps, they had been placed in reserve a 
little behind the fourteenth. 

The army having come to a halt, Napoleon established 
his quarters in the village of Koukoviatschi. The King 
of Naples and Prince Eugene encamped in a wretched 
little château near the village of Dobrijka, surrounded by 
the corps under their command. 

At dawn on the following day (27th July) our troops 
marched on Witepsk. The Russians, in retreating to- 
wards this town, fired several cannon shots at us, which 
did little harm. They next deployed on the summit of 
a large plateau situated near the town, which commands 
all the roads leading to it. From the hill upon which 
we were placed the enemy's lines could easily be seen, 
and above all his numerous cavalry ranged in order of 
battle at the extremity of the plain. 

Broussier's division led the advance, and it was broad 
daylight when it crossed a little rivulet which separated 
us from this plain, and took up a position upon rising 
ground facing the plateau occupied by the Russians. At 
the same time the 16th Chasseurs-à-cheval, having gone 
on in advance, were charged by several squadrons of 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Cossacks of the Guard ; and this regiment would have 
been totally defeated had they not been extricated to- 
wards the left by two hundred voltigeurs commanded by 
Captains Guyard and Savary. The gallantry of these 
warriors attracted the attention of the whole army, which, 
encamped upon a range of hills formed like an amphi- 
theatre, watched their exploit, and rewarded their valour 
with approving shouts. Napoleon, who witnessed this 
fine feat of arms, sent to ask what corps these soldiers 
belonged to. He was told that they were of the 9th 
Regiment, and that three-fourths of them were enfants de 
Paris. " Tell them," said the Emperor, " they are brave 
men ; they all deserve the Cross of the Legion of Honour." 

The 1 6th Chasseurs, retiring upon the fourteenth 
division, were covered by the 53rd Regiment, commanded 
by Colonel Grosbon. This division, formed in square, 
presented an impregnable front to the enemy, to break 
which he concentrated all his efforts. This circumstance 
threw our ranks into some confusion ; but Napoleon being 
present, this could not long continue. Posted on an 
eminence he watched all the manœuvres, and with perfect 
coolness ordered all that he deemed necessary to achieve 
the victory. He directed a regiment of cavalry to retire 
in order to enable the thirteenth division to cross a bridge. 
This retrograde movement caused some agitation in our 
rear, composed of a rabble of camp followers, people who 
are easily alarmed, and who, always apprehensive of their 
safety are more a source of annoyance than of benefit to 
an army. 

The thirteenth division having advanced, wheeled to 
the right. The Viceroy marching at their head led them 
to the rear of the fourteenth, upon the heights which 
commanded the plateau where the enemy was posted. 



These heights not being occupied, we advanced without 
difficulty, and arrived to take up a position on the summit, 
and found ourselves face to face with the Russian camp, 
only separated from it by the river Loutchesa, the steep 
banks of which formed so deep a ravine that it was im- 
possible to bring on a general action. We feigned never- 
theless to be desirous of engaging by detaching some 
light troops, who succeeded in passing the ravine and 
establishing themselves in a small wood. But these 
troops, not being supported, went no farther, and returned 
to their corps as soon as the guns ceased firing and the 
divisions were no longer under arms. 

This suspension, at the moment when the armies 
were en prise \ excited general astonishment, and every one 
inquired for the Emperor and what were his instructions. 
While these questions were being asked, a portion of the 
first corps of the Imperial Guard came to join us. From 
this some concluded that Napoleon only awaited the 
union of all his forces to make a serious attack, while 
others were convinced that the Duke of Elchingen and 
Montbrun's cavalry, advancing by the other bank of the 
Dwina, would turn the position of Witepsk and cut off 
the retreat of the Russians. As it was not executed, 
this movement was doubtless found to be impracticable. 

At last, night having fallen, the troops bivouacked on 
the spot where they had taken position, and each related 
the honourable deeds by which his corps had distinguished 
itself. In all these stories it was noted with satisfaction 
that the combat, although glorious, had not been deadly. 
At the same time, among the few killed was Colonel 
Liedot of the Engineers, a man truly worthy of the corps 
to which he belonged. During the Egyptian expedition 
he was conspicuous for his courage ; and in the construc- 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

tion of the fortresses in Italy, he showed that camp life 
had not been incompatible with the development of 
scientific knowledge. 

The determination with which the Russians had main- 
tained their positions, and the concentration of a large part 
of our troops upon the same point, led us to suppose that 
the morrow would be devoted to a general action ; but 
imagine our surprise when at early morning (28th July) 
we found that the enemy had effected his retreat. The 
army immediately followed in pursuit, with the exception 
of the Imperial Guard, which was established in Witepsk, 
where it seemed that the Emperor meant to remain. This 
town was almost deserted ; the Jews alone were left, and 
a few people of the lowest order. Cossacks were dis- 
covered on the opposite side of the route, and they were 
promptly pursued by General Lefebvre, commanding the 
light horse of the Guard. 



Relief at entering Witepsk — Good order of Russian Army — Pursuit con- 
tinued — A martial bivouac — Hunting for the Russians — Manœuvres of 
Russians — French successes — Lying report of Alexander's assassination — ■ 
Napoleon's indecent joy at the news — His attempts to disseminate it. 

WITEPSK, the chief town of the government of that 
name, is situated between hills and the banks 
of the Dwina, and formerly contained twenty thousand 
inhabitants. The principal buildings, from their pleasant 
position, afforded us the most agreeable prospect. For 
two months, Poland and Lithuania, over a distance of 
three hundred leagues, had presented to us nothing but 
deserted villages and a devastated country. Destruction 
seemed to precede our steps, and on every hand the entire 
population fled at our approach and resigned their abodes 
to clouds of Cossacks, who, before abandoning them, de- 
stroyed everything they could not remove. Thus, long 
subjected to the most fearful privations, we viewed with 
envy these clean and elegant houses, where repose and 
abundance appeared to reign. But we were deprived of 
the repose upon which we had counted, and had to resume 
the pursuit of the Russians, leaving our left in the town 
which had been the object of our desires and most 
cherished hopes. 

In following the movement of the advance-guard, we 
were astonished to observe the perfect order in which 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Count Barclay de Tolly had evacuated his position. We 
spread ourselves on all sides over an immense plain, 
without being able to discover any signs of his retreat — 
not a single waggon abandoned, not a single dead horse, 
not even so much as a solitary straggler to indicate the 
route taken by the enemy. We were still in this un- 
certainty, probably unique, when Colonel Kliski found a 
Russian soldier asleep under a bush. This discovery 
appeared to us a godsend, and the Viceroy availed 
himself of it to interrogate the prisoner, who gave us 
some information about the direction taken by the 
column to which he belonged. 

With a view to make certain, the Prince rode on in 
advance; but having found nothing in that direction 
worthy of notice, we resumed our march, and returned 
at full gallop to the high road which, from Witepsk, 
continued up the Dwina. We found it covered with 
numerous cavalry ; the King of Naples lost no time 
in rejoining the Viceroy; and, having concerted their 
measures, they directed the movements of their respective 
corps. That day the heat was excessive ; clouds of dust, 
raised by the horses, made the march appalling; it was 
necessary to halt, and a wooden church was selected for 
the purpose, where the King of Naples, the Prince and 
General Nansouty had a long consultation. 

The vanguard having received instructions to continue 
the pursuit, it was not long before we learnt that at last 
the Russian army had been encountered. The whole 
army immediately continued its march and came up with 
the enemy ; but the Cossacks, who formed his rearguard, 
seeing our artillery advance, beat a retreat, contenting 
themselves with firing a few cannon shots when they 
found a favourable opportunity. They manoeuvred thus 



as far as the other side of Aghaponovchtchina, where our 
corps and the cavalry halted. In the neighbourhood of 
this village, on a hill towards the left, there was a mean 
château, where Napoleon was lodged, who had come from 
Witepsk to rejoin us as soon as he had heard that we 
were engaged with the Russians. 

Never did bivouac present a more martial appearance 
than that of Aghaponovchtchina. The Emperor, the 
King of Naples, and the Prince were under one tent ; 
the generals, lodged in miserable cabins constructed by 
the soldiers, camped with their officers along a rivulet, 
the muddy water of which was eagerly sought after; for 
during the three days that had elapsed since we were on 
the battlefield, the heat had been intense, and we had had 
nothing to eat but execrable bread and some roots ; but 
the victory redoubled our strength and rendered us in- 
sensible to every privation. As to our troops, they 
bivouacked around the château upon rising ground 
From afar the enemy could see our numerous fires, the 
glare of which lit up the obscurity of the night. 

Early next day (29th July) the search for the Russians 
was resumed. The Emperor returned to Witepsk, where 
he intended to remain long enough to carry out his plans 
regarding Lithuania. On arriving at the junction of the 
road from Janowitschi with that from Sourai, the King 
of Naples left us, with all the cavalry and the fourteenth 
division. The Viceroy, continuing his march, proceeded 
towards the Dwina, followed by the thirteenth and 
fifteenth divisions, the Royal Guard and the brigade of 
Italian light horse commanded by General Villata. 

We were on the point of entering Sourai, when some 
chasseurs informed us that a convoy of the enemy, weakly 
escorted, was attempting to pass the river to gain the 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Waliki-Luki road. The Viceroy at once ordered his 
aide-de-camp, Desève, to follow the chasseurs and capture 
it. This order was promptly carried out, for two hours 
afterwards, the aide-de-camp returned, bringing the news 
that the convoy was in our hands. 

The town of Sourai, although built of wood, was 
nevertheless one of the best we had met with. The 
population, almost wholly composed of Jews, was 
numerous and industrious, so that they were able to 
supply us with articles of which we were in sore need ; 
the shops were well stocked, which was very lucky for 
us, as everything pointed to our remaining in this little 

Sourai, without being a military station, was never- 
theless a very important place, situated at the point where 
the Casplia joins the Dwina. Here the high roads from 
St. Petersburg and Moscow divide, and the town thus forms 
two têtes-de-pont which guard the road to Witepsk. During 
our stay here several engineer-geographers arrived, who 
made a plan of the river and neighbourhood. 

The thirteenth division, which had followed us, was 
encamped on the other side of Sourai ; a portion of the 
fifteenth with the Foot Guards remained in the town ; 
the Cavalry Guard, under General Triaire, crossed the 
Dwina and made a reconnaissance in force upon the 
Waliki-Luki road. The enormous quantity of provisions 
which the dragoons brought in from the expedition 
proved that the country afforded abundant supplies for 
the cantonments. 

On arriving at Sourai, the Viceroy was told that 
another Russian convoy, strongly escorted, had taken the 
road to Veliz. He at once directed Baron Banco, colonel 
of the 2nd Regiment of Italian chasseurs, to take with him 



two hundred picked men, and start immediately in pursuit. 
This detachment, after marching nine leagues, arrived at 
Veliz just as the convoy emerged from the town, and 
attempted to cross the bridge over the Dwina. The 
chasseurs promptly charged the escort. They were re- 
pulsed five times by the infantry, and by detachments of 
cavalry much stronger than themselves ; but at last the 
valour of the Italians prevailed, and the whole convoy was 
taken, while five hundred Russians were obliged to lay 
down their arms. This victory cost us some wounded, 
amongst them six officers, one of whom died of his 

While Napoleon was at Witepsk, endeavouring to 
organise Lithuania, and the troops of the centre of the 
army were cantoned between the Dnieper and the Dwina, 
we learnt that the Prince of Eckmiihl had been attacked 
at Mohilow. Bagration, taking advantage of the repose 
which the action of Borisow had afforded him, crossed the 
Beresina at Bobruisk, and marched upon Novoi-Bickow. 
On the 23rd July at daybreak a swarm of Cossacks 
surprised us, and captured about a hundred of the 3rd 
Chasseurs, including the colonel. The alarm at once 
spread throughout the camp, the générale was sounded, 
and our soldiers at once flew to arms. General Sieverse, 
with two divisions of veterans, directed all the attacks. 
From eight in the morning until five in the afternoon 
firing was kept up on the fringe of the wood, and at the 
bridge which the enemy was attempting to capture. At 
five o'clock the Prince of Eckmiihl advanced three battalions 
of élite, placed himself at their head, overthrew the Russians, 
recaptured the positions which they had taken, and ener- 
getically pursued them. The losses were about equal on 
each side ; but Prince Bagration, who had only accepted 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

this engagement to protect his retreat and facilitate the 
passage of his troops across the Dnieper, withdrew to 
Bickow, crossed the river, and thence directed himself 
towards Smolensk, where the Russian armies were to 
effect their junction. 

General Kamenski, with two divisions, attempted to 
unite himself with Prince Bagration. Not succeeding in 
this, he re-entered Volhynia and joined the corps com- 
manded by General Tormasow. These troops forming 
one army, marched upon the seventh corps, towards 
Kobrin, and surrounded on all sides the Saxon general, 
Klengel, who had with him two regiments of infantry 
and two squadrons of horse. Compelled to yield to forces 
so much superior to his own, he nevertheless only sur- 
rendered after a stubborn combat, hoping always that he 
might be rescued by General Reynier ; but the latter, in 
spite of his utmost efforts, only arrived after the capitula- 

While we sustained checks upon our right, we were 
more fortunate on our extreme left. The Duke of Taranto, 
commanding the second corps, pushed reconnaissances 
upon the Riga road, and by the skilful dispositions of 
Generals Grawert and Kleist obtained some signal ad- 
vantages over the Russians. A few days after, General 
Ricard, having been detached towards the right, took 
possession of Dunabourg, which the enemy abandoned, 
after having made complete preparations for defending it. 

The most glorious action for our arms was that of the 
second corps. The Duke of Reggio advancing on Sebei, 
encountered Wittgenstein's army, reinforced by the corps 
of Prince Repnin. The combat took place at the Château 
of Jakoubovo. Legrand's division sustained a strong 
attack until ten at night, and by the valour of the 26th 



light infantry and of the 56th of the line, inflicted con- 
siderable losses on the Russians, who nevertheless next 
day attempted the passage of the Dwina. The Duke of 
Reggio thereupon ordered General Castex not to oppose 
them, and the enemy fell into the trap. On the 1st of 
August they proceeded towards Drissa, and formed in 
order of battle before the second corps. Fifteen thousand 
men, forming the half of Wittgenstein's army, had passed 
the river, when they were assailed by a masked battery of 
forty guns, which pounded them with grape for half an 
hour. At the same time, Legrand's division joined in the 
action, while just as it had turned in our favour Verdier's 
division arrived at the pas de charge with fixed bayonets. 
The Russians were hurled into the river, losing three 
thousand men and fourteen guns. In pursuing their 
débris on the Sebei road, we counted two thousand dead, 
among whom was General Koulniew, a very distinguished 
officer of light troops. 

During his sojourn at Witepsk, the Emperor had 
several houses opposite his palace demolished in order 
to form a large esplanade for reviewing his troops. 
Having assembled the grenadiers of the Foot Guards, 
he ordered them to recognise General Friant as their 
colonel. 1 Never has appointment been more unanimously 
approved. The complimentary and gracious words with 
which Napoleon accompanied this distinction, were only 
exceeded by the enthusiastic delight which the grenadiers 
manifested at the announcement. They saw in this dignity 
a fresh proof of the esteem for their corps, composed in 
great part of the veterans, who in Italy, Egypt and 
Germany had fought under the eyes of their leader 
himself. But General Friant, although highly sensible 

1 Killed afterwards at Waterloo. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

of this honour, begged, and obtained permission, to remain 
in command of the second division which he had himself 
formed, and which since the opening of the campaign 
had always found itself in the van. 

At this time a rumour was spread that the Emperor 
of Russia had been assassinated at Waliki-Luki by his 
courtiers. It is asserted that Napoleon, with an air of 
satisfaction, announced this news at one of the receptions 
which he held at Witepsk. We afterwards learnt that this 
lie had been circulated by him with the object of neutral- 
ising the effect produced by the vigorous proclamation 
published by Alexander, in which he appealed to all the 
People of his mighty Empire to rise against the perfidious 
enemy, who, after violating the soil of the fatherland, was 
advancing against the ancient capital to destroy and anni- 
hilate the glory of its illustrious founders. All these shame- 
ful dodges were, however, absolutely futile, and did not even 
come "to the knowledge of a population, which, fleeing en 
masse at the approach of the French army, could not 
possibly feel the effects of this pitiable trick, nor be cor- 
rupted by specious promises, the object of which was to 
stir up a frightful discord, by raising the masses against 
the nobility, and stifling in the hearts of the upper classes 
the attachment and fidelity which they owed to their 




Intense heat — French lose guns and men — Continued difficulties of marching 
— The Dnieper : Romance and reality — Graphic description of the 
burning of Smolensk by Russians — Uneasiness caused thereby — Entry 
into Smolensk — Horrors of the town — Pursuit resumed — Saint-Cyr's 
victories on the Dwina — Action of Valontina — Napoleon distributes 

SINCE the affairs at Veliz, the Viceroy, having felt the 
necessity of reinforcing the detachment of chasseurs 
which he had left there, sent General Villata to that point 
with a battalion of Dalmatians. Veliz, situated at the 
junction of two main roads, one of which leads to 
St. Petersburg and the other to Smolensk, was subject 
to frequent apparitions of Cossacks. It was also the 
most advanced position to which the French army 
had yet penetrated. Moreover, the population of the 
town, entirely Jewish, supplied us with the prime 
necessaries of life, while throughout the neighbour- 
hood nothing was to be found but poverty-stricken 
villages. We were enjoying the carelessness engendered 
by good living, when Colonel Banco, who was familiar 
with the Russian language, was informed by spies that 
the enemy intended to attack the brigade. Acting on 
this news, General Villata secretly made his preparations 
for receiving him, while publicly assuming an air of 
E 65 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

perfect security. The Cossacks, having appeared at 
break of day before Veliz, expected to find every one 
asleep; but the Dalmatians, who were under arms, issued 
from their ambuscade, and opened a fire which overthrew 
several horsemen. The Cossacks, dismayed by such a 
reception, took to flight, and abandoned the attempt to 
surprise the position. 

At this period the heat was so intense, that Napoleon, 
in spite of his impatience to reach the enemy, found 
himself obliged to give the army a rest. Those who had 
been through the Egyptian campaign asserted that the 
sun of that country was not more burning than that of 
Russia. The troops stationed at a distance from streams 
suffered cruelly. The soldiers, in order to obtain water, 
dug in the earth with their bayonets, but even when they 
were lucky enough to find any, it was so muddy that it 
could only be drunk after being filtered through their 

The fourth corps, having halted at Sourai for ten 
days, resumed its march on the 9th August, and took 
the road to Janovitschi, where it was expected that the 
fourteenth division would be found. On the eve of 
this movement Prince Eugene sent his aide-de-camp, 
Lt.-Col. Labedoyère, 1 to the King of Naples. On his 
return, Labedoyère confirmed the news of the sanguinary 
engagement which General Sebastiani had had with the 
enemy near Inkovo, and its vexatious results for us; for 
it appeared that our cavalry had suffered greatly, and 
that besides several guns, we hadj lost a superb company 
of voltigeurs of the 24th Light Infantry. It was added, 
indeed, that without the courage and daring of the 
Prussian lancers, our losses would have been much 

1 Condemned by court-martial, and shot after Waterloo. 



heavier. General Sebastiani was much censured for 
this affair, for, although informed of the superior force 
of the enemy, he considered nothing but his own courage, 
and, disregarding every warning, persisted in risking the 

The Viceroy having passed two days at Janovitschi 
(ioth August), our sappers, commanded by General 
Poitevin, repaired the bridge over the little river that 
traversed the town. This bridge was so bad that it 
was too risky to use it, and the horses and vehicles 
were obliged to cross the river by a ford, although the 
bottom was extremely muddy and the banks were very 

In proceeding towards Liozna a slightly undulating 
plain is crossed ; next several copses are traversed and a 
rivulet is passed, which runs through a hamlet situated 
half-way to the château of Velechkovitschi, where the 
army halted (nth August). The soldiers encamped 
under some heights which surround the château. On 
the following day, the road as far as Liozna, running 
through marshy meadows, presented great obstacles to 
our convoys, particularly to the artillery, owing to rain 
having fallen heavily for two days. I may remark that 
these violent storms were the only ones that we en- 
countered, and during the rest of the campaign, until 
we reached Moscow, we scarcely ever suffered incon- 
venience from this cause. 

Around Liozna, a large village full of mud, we crossed 
on the 1 2th August, by a rickety bridge, a small stream 
the course of which forms a thousand bends, and separates 
the village at a quarter of a league towards the north- 
west, from the château where Prince Eugene was lodging. 
Our troops availed themselves of the camp which had 

6 7 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

been formed by the Duke of Elchingen's corps, and 
which was found between the village and the château. 

To reach Liouvavitschi, there was a more direct road 
than the one we took ; but several obstacles presented by 
the ground forced us to seek another, which, however, was 
itself not exempt from difficulties ; for we were obliged to 
pass through several défiles, and across muddy fields, and 
tracks made through the middle of the forests. Before 
arriving at this town, we crossed over a most detestable 
bridge, and passed along a road so muddy that the horses 
could hardly get through it. 

On entering Liouvavitschi, we saw the cavalry of the 
King of Naples return from the environs of Roudnia and 
Jorkovo, but instead of following the road to Razasna it 
turned to the left, as if to pass the Dnieper at a point 
much higher than that towards which we were proceeding. 
The reunion of the whole army upon the banks of that 
river manifestly indicated the intention to cross it, and 
attack Smolensk by the left bank, so as to capture the 
town, the fortified portion of which was upon that side. 
The order was soon given to rendezvous around Razasna, 
where several bridges had already been thrown across 
the river. 

Before arriving there we traversed an almost desert 
country; we saw no village upon the road, and rarely 
met with houses where we could stop. The road was laid 
over a quagmire, in which we were forced to abandon 
part of our baggage. After infinite trouble, we arrived 
at last at this Dnieper, the Greek name of which — the 
Borysthenes — conjured up in our minds grand and poetic 
ideas. But these illusions were soon dissipated when we 
saw a commonplace river flowing in a very narrow bed. 

These waters are so closed in, that the river is only visible 



when one strikes it. The banks, also, are extremely steep 
and inaccessible. 

Around Razasna, all the different corps of the Grand 
Army, one part of which came by way of Orcha and the 
other by Babinovitschi, effected their junction. The 
Emperor had reached Razasna on the morning of the 
13th August. On that day he lined up the divisions of 
the corps of the Prince of Eckmiihl, which had come from 
Mohilow, and, after having inspected them, he dispatched 
them on the road to Smolensk. This immense concentra- 
tion of men upon the same point, while increasing our 
misery, redoubled the confusion and disorder which 
reigned on all the main roads. Wandering soldiers 
searched in vain for their regiments, and at last officers, 
carrying urgent orders, could not deliver them owing to 
the congestion of the roads, which occasioned an appall- 
ing tumult upon the bridges and in the defiles. 

Leaving the town of Liadoui (a place remarkable for 
being the last in which we found Jews), and crossing a 
small stream, above which is a vast plateau, entirely 
commanding the town, we continued our march as far as 
Smiaki. The Viceroy wishing to encamp in this hamlet, 
gave the order to halt, while the other corps of the Grand 
Army marched upon Smolensk, and from the cannonade 
which was in progress we concluded that the town was 
being vigorously attacked. 

On the morrow (16th August) we remained in the 
same position. During the whole day, numbers of troops 
continued to pass through, advancing towards the front. 
Towards six o'clock in the evening, we had to leave 
Smiaki and march for three hours to Krasnoë, a small 
village where there are some stone houses, and where the 
Viceroy established posts of communication ; but he did 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

not remain there, and continuing the route, we traversed 
the neighbouring small river of Katovo. The Prince 
established his bivouac under a large avenue of trees, 
surrounded by his divisions. At daybreak (17th August) 
we continued our route, and bivouacked a league beyond 
the post of Korouitnia, in a birch-wood, situated on the 
shores of a lake. Our camp presented an extremely 
picturesque coup cTceil, the Viceroy having raised his tent 
in the midst of this copse. The officers slept in their 
carriages ; those who had none, cut down trees and built 
huts, while their comrades lit fires to cook the food. As 
to the soldiers, some went marauding, others washed 
their linen on the banks of a limpid brook, and the rest, 
after their long march, amused themselves by making 
war on a small flock of geese and ducks, which had 
escaped the voracity of the Cossacks. 

It was here that we learnt that after a bloody engage- 
ment the town of Smolensk had been committed to the 
flames by the Russians, and abandoned to the victors. 
This event was a sinister omen, and made us realise 
to what extremities a people could resort when it is 
determined not to submit to foreign domination. The 
following day we approached this unhappy town, but a 
league before we reached it, the Viceroy caused us to 
encamp in a wood near the château of Novoidwor, 
where he was joined by the Emperor. Here one of my 
comrades, coming from Smolensk, gave me the following 
description of the events of which he had been an eye- 
witness : — ■ 

" The position which we maintained up to the 13th of 
this month (August) had led the enemy to suppose that 
we intended to attack Smolensk by the right bank of the 
Dnieper. But suddenly the Emperor, by a prompt and 



unexpected manœuvre, passed his whole army to the 
left bank. During the 14th, the King of Naples, 
commanding the vanguard, was joined by the corps of 
the Duke of Elchingen, who in the morning had passed 
the Dnieper near Krasnoë, and engaged the 25th Russian 
division, consisting of five thousand infantry and two 
thousand horse. Krasnoë having been taken, Grouchy's 
cavalry delivered several magnificent charges upon the 
flying enemy, and took some guns and many prisoners. 
After this success Napoleon appeared with his army 
before Smolensk on the morning of the 16th. This town 
is surrounded by an ancient embattled wall, eight 
thousand yards in circumference, ten feet thick and 
twenty-five feet high ; flanked at intervals by enormous 
towers, which form bastions, on most of which heavy 
guns were mounted. 

" The Russians, still believing that we would advance 
by the right bank of the Dnieper, had retained a large 
portion of their troops on that side; but seeing us arrive 
by the left bank, they believed themselves to be out- 
flanked, and returned in all haste to defend Smolensk at 
the principal point of attack. This they were all the 
more eager to do, as Alexander, in quitting the army, 
had instructed Baron Barclay de Tolly to join battle in 
order to save the town. 

"After having passed the 16th in reconnoitring the 
place and its neighbourhood, the Emperor assigned the 
left to the Duke of Elchingen, resting on the Dnieper; 
the Prince of Eckmiihl commanded the centre, Prince 
Poniatowski the right; while the Guard and the fourth 
corps were held in reserve. The Westphalians were 
also expected, but the Duke of Abrantés, who commanded 
them, had by a mistaken movement lost his way. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

" Half of the following day was occupied in observa- 
tions. The enemy occupied Smolensk with thirty 
thousand men ; the remainder were in reserve on the 
right bank, communicating by means of the bridges, 
constructed below the town. Napoleon, aware that the 
garrison, placed under the orders of General Doctorow, 
would take advantage of any respite to strengthen 
its position, ordered Prince Poniatowski to advance, 
having Smolensk on his left and the Dnieper on his 
right. He directed the establishment of batteries to 
destroy the bridges, and by that means to intercept 
communication between the two banks. The Prince of 
Eckmiihl attacked the entrenched suburbs, defended by 
seven or eight thousand infantry. 

" In the afternoon General Bruyères' light horse drove 
the Russians, and took possession of the plateau nearest 
the bridge. There, a battery of sixty guns was established, 
and fired so accurately upon the masses on the opposite 
bank that they were compelled to retire. To reply to 
this battery, two of twenty guns each were brought into 
action. The Prince of Eckmiihl, having been ordered to 
carry the town, confided the attack on the suburb on the 
right to General Morand, and that on the suburb on the 
left to General Gudin. After a brisk fusillade the two 
divisions stormed the positions, and pursued the enemy 
with rare intrepidity as far as the covered way, which 
they found strewn with corpses. On our left the Duke 
of Elchingen captured the trenches occupied by the 
Russians, and compelled them to re-enter the town and 
seek refuge in the towers, or on the ramparts, which they 
obstinately defended ; but they were finally dislodged by 
shells which set the defences on fire. Count Sorbier, 
commanding the artillery of the Guard, by mounting 



enfilading batteries, made it impossible for the besieged 
to occupy their covered ways. 

"General Barclay de Tolly, seeing then that the 
assault of the town was about to be delivered, although 
the breach was not yet practicable, reinforced the garrison 
with two fresh divisions, and two regiments of infantry 
of the Guard. The fight lasted until the end of the day. 
Soon afterwards columns of smoke and a great burst of 
flames were observed, extending in an instant to the 
principal quarters of Smolensk, which, in the midst of 
a lovely summer night, presented a spectacle such as can 
only be likened to that which the inhabitants of Naples 
behold during an eruption of Vesuvius. 

" An hour after midnight, the débris of the town were 
abandoned. At two o'clock in the morning our first 
grenadiers formed for the assault, when, to their great 
surprise, they advanced without encountering resistance, 
and discovered that the place was entirely evacuated. 
We took possession of it, and found on the walls several 
guns which the enemy had been unable to remove. 

" It would be impossible adequately to describe the 
horrible scene of devastation presented by the interior of 
Smolensk. My entry into this town will be the epoch 
of my life. Picture to yourself all the streets, all the 
squares, encumbered with dead or dying Russians, and 
the flames lighting up far and wide this frightful 

On the morrow (19th August) we entered Smolensk 
by the suburb which extends along the river. On all 
sides we marched over nothing but ruins and corpses. 
Of the palace, still burning, nothing was left but walls 
cracked by the heat, and under their fragments the 
blackened remains of the inhabitants whom the fire had 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

devoured. The few houses that remained were overrun 
by our soldiers, and on the threshold was seen the home- 
less tenant, who, with the remnants of his family, lamented 
the slaughter of his children, and the loss of his all. The 
churches alone offered some consolation to the unhappy 
people who were without other shelter. The cathedral, 
famous throughout Europe, and highly venerated by the 
Russians, became the asylum for those who had escaped 
from the fire. In this church, close up to the altars, were 
entire families lying on rags. On one hand could be seen 
an old man expiring with his face turned towards the 
statue of his tutelary saint ; on another, poor little infants 
to whom their mothers, crushed by misfortune, gave suck 
while bedewing them with their tears. 

In the midst of this desolation, the passing of the 
army into the interior of the town offered a striking con- 
trast. On one side was the degradation of the vanquished, 
on the other the arrogance bred of victory ; the first had 
lost everything, the others, rich with spoil, and having 
never known defeat, marched proudly to the sound of 
martial music, striking with mingled fear and admiration 
the miserable remnants of a subdued populace. 

The struggle at Smolensk deprived the enemy's army 
of twelve thousand men, of which a third were left in the 
town. Although we were the assailants, this loss was 
triple that of ours. Lying beside one French soldier 
could be seen the bodies of five or six Russians. A fact 
so remarkable will be understood when one remembers 
that the Muscovites always get drunk before a battle; 
also that their sharpshooters, more daring than dexterous 
expose themselves to danger without doing much harm 
to their adversaries. According to all accounts, the 
enemy had several generals killed. On our side, Generals 



Zaionsheck, Grandeau, and Dalton proved by their wounds 
how greatly they had contributed to the victory. 

Measures were promptly taken to repair the large 
bridge over the Dnieper, which had been burnt, and which 
communicated with the other part of the town, not one 
single house in which remained standing. It was at the 
end of the suburb by which we had arrived that the 
fourteenth corps and Grouchy's cavalry forded the river 
with all their artillery. During this interval other bridges 
were constructed, and they so greatly facilitated the 
passage, that on the same day the light horse, with the 
artillery under the orders of the King of Naples, were 
upon the road to Moscow in pursuit of the enemy. 

The troops of Prince Eugene and those of Count 
Grouchy, having crossed the river, encamped on the 
height commanding the town, past which runs the mail 
road which leads to St. Petersburg from Porietsch. This 
was a position of the highest importance, and it was 
a matter of universal astonishment that the enemy had 
not better defended it. By maintaining it our march 
would have been arrested, inasmuch as it covered the high 
road to Moscow, and would have prevented us from 
remaining in the town, which it entirely commanded. 

While the centre of the army pursued its triumphant 
march, Count Gouvion Saint-Cyr was gaining important 
victories on the Dwina. After the affair at Drissa, 
General Wittgenstein having been reinforced by twelve 
battalions, resolved to take the offensive against the Duke 
of Reggio, who, foreseeing that he was about to be 
attacked, united the sixth Bavarian corps to the second. 
The attack was made on the 16th and 17th of August, 
but at the moment when the Duke of Reggio was taking 
his measures for repelling it he was struck by a bullet in 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

the shoulder, the dangerous wound obliging him to quit 
the field, and transfer the command to General Gouvion 

The latter made all preparations for attacking next 
day at dawn, and, the better to deceive the Russians, he 
ostentatiously withdrew, to the left bank of the Dwina, all 
the baggage, with a large part of the artillery and cavalry 
which, reascending the river, repassed it during the night 
at Polotsk without being observed. The enemy, outwitted 
by this adroit manœuvre, believed that we were retreat- 
ing, and advanced to pursue us ; but instead of finding us 
disposed to yield ground we appeared all drawn up in 
battle array, and our artillery opened fire. At the same 
time our infantry columns, under protection of the guns, 
attacked the left and centre of Wittgenstein's corps. 
The two divisions of Wrede and Roy, having combined 
their movement with courage and intelligence, issued 
together from Spas. Legrand's division, in position to 
the left of this village, was linked with that of Verdier, 
a brigade of which watched the enemy's right; lastly, 
Merle's division covered the front of the town of Polotsk. 

The enemy, surprised at such excellent dispositions, 
nevertheless maintained a firm front, thanks to his 
numerous artillery ; but on the approach of night, Count 
Wittgenstein seeing his centre and left broken, beat a 
retreat en échelon after desperately defending each position. 
It was by this obstinate resistance that he succeeded in 
saving his army, which, notwithstanding the most deter- 
mined efforts, was utterly unable to resume the offensive. 
Had it not been for the woods which facilitated the escape 
of prisoners, we should have taken a considerable number; 
those which we did capture, were collected wounded on 
the battlefield, and from the number we found it was 



easy to estimate how heavy the Russian loss had been. 
Several guns augmented the trophies of a glorious day. 

This victory was, however, dearly bought with the loss 
of several brave Bavarian officers, and above all by the 
mortal wounds of Generals de Roy and Sierbein. The 
generals, officers, and soldiers vied with one another in 
intelligence and bravery to secure the victory. Amongst 
the first, Count Gouvion Saint-Cyr in his report of the 
action especially commended Generals de Wrede, Legrand, 
Verdier (wounded), Merle, and Aubry; the last-named 
general of artillery particularly distinguished himself in the 
handling of this arm. Count Gouvion Saint-Cyr ended 
his report by requesting the Emperor's recognition of the 
services of his officers. He thus did justice to all, except 
himself, about whom he preserved absolute silence; but 
his modesty only enhanced his reputation, and served to 
throw into stronger relief those great abilities which a 
few days afterwards were rewarded with a marshal's 
bâton, presented on the battlefield. While our left corps 
was gaining important victories on the Dwina, our centre 
was distinguishing itself by combats not less glorious. 

The Duke of Elchingen having crossed the Dnieper 
(19th August) below Smolensk, united with the King of 
Naples to pursue the enemy. At one league from that 
town, he encountered a portion of his rearguard, formed 
by a division of Bagawout's corps, of about six thousand 
men. In an instant its position was stormed, and the 
bayonet covered the field with dead. 

This corps, which protected the retreat of the Russians, 
having been forced to retire upon a second échelon, took 
up a position on the plateau of Valontina. But the first 
line was broken by the 18th Regiment, and towards four 
o'clock in the afternoon the firing extended to the whole 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

rearguard, fifteen thousand strong. The Duke of 
Abrantés, who had lost his way on the right of Smolensk, 
made a false movement, and was unable to gain the road 
to Moscow with sufficient rapidity to cut off the retreat 
of this rearguard. Moreover, the first échelons of the 
enemy retraced their steps, and successively joined in the 
battle to the extent of four divisions. The Russians had 
all the more interest in defending this position, inasmuch 
as besides its actual strength it was regarded in the 
country as impregnable, because in the ancient wars 
the Poles had always been beaten there. Hence the 
Muscovites, owing to a religious tradition, associated this 
plateau with an assurance of victory, and had dignified 
it with the pompous title of " Sacred Field." 

If the enemy attached a high importance to retaining 
it, our interest in capturing it was none the less, in order 
to harass his retreat and capture all his baggage train and 
vehicles full of wounded proceeding from Smolensk, the 
evacuation of which was protected by the rearguard. 

At six in the evening, Gudin's division, sent to sus- 
tain the third corps against the numerous troops which 
the enemy hurried forward, debouched in column upon 
the centre of the position, and sustained by Ledru's 
division, carried it at the point of the bayonet. The 7th 
Light, the 12th, 21st and 127th, which formed Gudin's 
division, attacked with such impetuosity that the Russians 
were put to flight, convinced that they were engaged with 
the Imperial Guard. This valour cost the life of the 
brave general who led them. But his death was amply 
avenged; his division dealt great slaughter among the 
enemy, who, flying towards Moscow, left the " Sacred 
Field " covered with dead. A Russian general of division 
was taken in the mêlée by one of our infantry officers. 



Among the dead were found the bodies of Generals 
Skalon and Balla; and it was stated that the cavalry 
general KofT, who was mortally wounded, was as great 
a loss to our adversaries as any sustained by ourselves. 

At three in the morning of the day following, the 
Emperor distributed on the field of battle rewards to the 
regiments which had distinguished themselves ; and as 
the 127th, which was a new regiment, had borne itself 
well, Napoleon bestowed upon it the right to carry an 
eagle; a privilege which up to then it did not possess, 
never having so far participated in a battle. These 
rewards, bestowed in the midst of the dead and dying, 
presented a spectacle of grandeur which made our 
exploits bear comparison with all the most heroic deeds 
of antiquity. 

During the four days on which Napoleon remained at 
Smolensk, he reviewed the various corps which had 
distinguished themselves since the opening of the 
campaign. In this respect none deserved this honourable 
distinction more than the fourth. It was at length 
conferred upon us, and the chiefs of each division, with 
the exception of General Pino, who had left a few days 
before for Witepsk with the fifteenth, received instructions 
(22nd August) to draw up their soldiers under arms. All 
our army, in its best array, was ranged in order of battle 
in a vast plain a little above that on which we were 
encamped. Its splendid appearance, and above all, the 
memory of the brilliant affairs at Witepsk, secured for 
our corps rewards which were commensurate with its 
valour, and which testified to the munificence of the 
leader who deigned to bestow them. 



Expectation that Napoleon would not proceed beyond Smolensk — Advantages 
of not doing so — His recklessness and disregard of warnings — A better 
country — Burning of Viazma — Napoleon orders his army to prepare for 
a great battle. 

UP to this time it was believed that the Emperor, 
only desirous of restoring the Kingdom of Poland, 
would limit his conquests to the towns of Witepsk and 
Smolensk, which, from their position, closed the narrow 
tract comprised between the Dnieper and the Dwina. 
Every one considered that, in view of the approach of winter, 
these two rivers would serve as his line of defence ; and 
if, instead of advancing farther, he had ended the 
campaign by the capture of Riga, had fortified Witepsk 
and Smolensk, and above all had organised Poland, which 
he had entirely conquered, there is no doubt whatever 
that in the following spring Napoleon would have forced 
the Russians to submit to his conditions, or at all events 
reduced them to run the almost certain risk of seeing both 
St. Petersburg and Moscow destroyed, since the French 
army was at an equal distance from both these capitals. 
But instead of adopting this judicious plan, he was 
obsessed with the recollection of the fortunate issue of his 
last campaigns, when he dictated peace in the palaces 
of the sovereigns he had conquered. These glorious 

memories emboldened him to such an extent that he 



despised the counsels of wisdom, and determined, although 
six hundred leagues from France, with only worn-out 
horses, with neither means of subsistence, magazines, 
nor hospitals, to venture upon the desert route to Moscow ; 
and as a last proof of recklessness, leaving on his left the 
corps of Wittgenstein, and in his rear a Russian army, 
cantoned in Moldavia, and ready to march against us 
immediately upon the ratification of the treaty of peace 
concluded with the Ottoman Porte. 

That army having ceased hostilities with the Turks, 
was then commanded by Admiral Tschikagow, and 
without intermission detached fresh troops to reinforce 
the army of Volhynia, opposed to the corps of Prince 
Schwartzenberg. Napoleon, hoodwinked by a deceptive 
alliance, believed that the Austrians, obedient to his 
orders, would repel the corps of Tormasow, of Ertel and 
of Sacken, on the same heights where we had beaten that 
of Barclay de Tolly; and that consequently the allies 
laying waste the Ukraine, would penetrate into the 
governments of Kiow and Kaluga, and join us at the 
moment of our entry into Moscow. But their insecure 
position, and above all the operations of the Russian 
generals, exploded this grand scheme. Turn by turn 
conquerors and conquered, the combatants did nothing 
but manoeuvre, and according to the news received by 
the Grand Army, mutually yielded the territory they had 
abandoned. Thus the fortress of Bobrinsk was not 
surrendered, and the Austrians did not even see the banks 
of the Dnieper. 

On leaving Smolensk (23rd August) we reached 

Volodimerowa. To the right of this village is a wooden 

château situated on an eminence, overlooking a marsh. 

We all believed that it was the intention of the Prince to 

F 81 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

march upon Doukhovchtchina in order subsequently to 
turn off toward Doroghoboui, where the centre of the 
Grand Army was established, but General Grouchy, who 
preceded us with his cavalry, announced that he had 
repulsed the enemy more than twenty leagues away. 
The Viceroy thus being able to dispense with the necessity 
of going to Doukhovchtchina, decided to seek a route 
which would conduct us direct to Doroghoboui. This 
he found near Pomoghailovo, and followed with the 
more confidence as a Russian corps had passed along 
it in effecting its retreat. 

This march was through an excellent country ; strange 
to say cattle were seen feeding in the meadows ; inhabit- 
ants were found in the villages, and houses that had not 
been sacked. The soldiers being in the midst of abundance 
forgot their fatigue, and thought nothing of the length of 
a march which had lasted for more than ten hours. At 
last we arrived towards evening at Pologhi, a village 
somewhat removed from the road we were seeking. 
The next day (25th August) we crossed the Vop, a small 
stream which would have attracted our notice if we could 
have foreseen how fatal it was to be for us in the future. 
One could understand, however, what it would be like 
in the winter from the difficulty we found in crossing it 
in the middle of summer. It was very deep, and the 
slopes which led down to it were so steep that the 
artillery could only pass with the greatest difficulty, and 
by doubling the teams of the guns. 

Continuing our march, we again saw the Dnieper, 
the banks of which, marshy and covered with woods, 
reached almost to the hills upon which ran the road we 
were following. A league farther on the high towers of 

the fine château of Zazélé could be seen ; from a distance 



they give to this building the appearance of a town. 
Quite close to it was a lake, where Grouchy 's cavalry 
refreshed themselves, which having arrived before us were 
encamped around the château. 

From this place the Viceroy sent officers to Dorogho- 
boui, where Napoleon was stationed ; but although 
General Grouchy had pushed his advance-guard well 
forward, it was not yet known whether communications 
were open as far as that town. The officers sent on the 
mission crossed the Dnieper below Zazélé, and rejoining 
the postal road to Smolensk, arrived safely at Doroghoboui, 
where the staff of the Grand Army had established its 
general quarters. This town, situated on a height, was a 
good military position, as it guarded the passage of two 
high roads against armies marching from Smolensk and 
Witepsk upon Moscow. So heavy, however, had the 
Russian losses been at Smolensk and Valontina, that in 
spite of these advantages the town was only feebly 

Our corps was on the point of entering Doroghoboui, 
when the Viceroy received dispatches from the Emperor, 
and after reading them the Prince proceeded to select a 
suitable spot for our encampment. The want of water 
having obliged us to push on as far as Mikhailovskoe, we 
established ourselves close to this village (26th August). 
In our rear was the cavalry ; in the centre the infantry 
of the Italian Guard, and upon our flanks the French 
divisions of our corps. 

A league from Mikhailovskoe two villages were passed, 
situated in marshy valleys ; we then entered the plain 
watered by the Dnieper, and followed the road to Blag- 
hove, where we were to cross the river, having on our 
right the cultivated uplands upon which were situated 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

several villages. The smoke which issued from the 
houses showed they had not been abandoned. In the 
distance we could see the inhabitants fleeing to the top 
of the hills, and watching with anxiety to see if we were 
coming to trouble the peace of their homes. 

The source of the Dnieper not being far from Blaghove, 
the river is here quite narrow. We therefore passed it 
easily by a ford, and the only difficulty experienced by 
the artillery was in negotiating the banks, which, in 
common with all the rivers in Russia, are extremely high, 
so as to contain the floods caused by melting snow. 

The Viceroy did not cross until he had seen all his 
force pass the stream. The fourth corps, forming the 
extreme left of the Grand Army, was obliged to march 
by very indistinctly traced roads, and to prevent the force 
losing its way, the Prince instructed General Triaire, com- 
manding the advance-guard, to indicate the route by 
means of vedettes of dragoons. This wise precaution 
was a godsend to the detachments, and especially to 
stragglers, who, being thus relieved of uncertainty as 
to the road they should follow, all arrived safely at 
Agopochina. Previously these unlucky beings, when left 
in the rear, found themselves in the midst of dense forests 
or immense plains, all intersected by similar pathways. 
Knowing nothing of the language of the country, they 
wandered helplessly through these vast solitudes, and 
sooner or later perished of hunger or fell by the knives 
of the exasperated peasants. 

The village of Agopochina where we halted (27th 
August) is remarkable for a great château and fine church 
built of stone, the four façades of which are embellished 
with four peristyles. The sanctuary, constructed accord- 
ing to the Greek rite, was of immense value, and decorated 



with rare and curious pictures, which suggested to us the 
severe but correct style which the Greeks brought from 
Constantinople when they came to Italy in the fifteenth 
century to found schools of painting. At this village 
Commandant Sevelinge, who had recently arrived to join 
our staff, was sent to the King of Naples with important 
dispatches, but as the King did not receive these dis- 
patches, and the Commandment was never again seen, 
we sorrowfully concluded that he had fallen into the 
hands of the Cossacks. 

The day following (28th August) we continued to 
march to the left of the main road. The route which we 
followed could never before have been traversed by an 
army. It was narrow, intersected by numerous ravines, 
and often dwindled to a mere footpath. On arriving 
at a village, the name of which we did not know, we found 
three different tracks ; one straight in front of us, another 
to the right, and the third to the left. We took the last- 
named, and after a two hours' march it brought us to a 
deserted château situated a league beyond Bereski. 

Early in the morning (29th August) we left the 
neighbourhood of this château in a very dense fog. From 
the frequent halts which the Viceroy ordered, and the 
reconnaissances which he constantly made upon the right, 
as if to ascertain whether there was gun-firing on the 
main road, we concluded that he was anxious to know 
whether Napoleon was experiencing obstacles to his march. 

We now approached Viazma. This little town, which, 
by the way, is a large one for Russia, was in a favourable 
position for the enemy. Built upon the bank of the 
river which bears its name, it is surrounded by ravines, 
and is situated upon a large plateau which commands at 
the same time the plain and the opening of the defile 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

through which passes the road to Smolensk. The 
Russians profited but little by these advantages ; they 
made only a feeble defence of the position, and after a 
slight encounter they set fire to the principal edifices and 
retired. We arrived just as Viazma burst into flames. 
Although by this time quite accustomed to fires, we could 
not help looking with pity on this unhappy town, which 
formerly contained ten thousand inhabitants. While it 
had only recently been founded, it contained more than 
sixteen churches ; the houses, all newly constructed and 
very handsome, were enveloped in clouds of smoke, and 
our regret at its destruction was increased by the fact 
that since leaving Witepsk we had not met with a more 
charming and agreeable place. 

The Viceroy halted in the plain for two hours. From 
rising ground we could see clearly the progress of the 
conflagration, and hear the heavy cannonade which was 
being directed against the enemy beyond the town. A 
large body of cavalry, debouching from all quarters, was 
encamped in the environs. Prince Eugene by direction 
of the Emperor crossed the Viazma, which is here only 
a small stream. We presently encountered one of its 
branches, the approaches to which were so boggy that it 
was impossible to ford it ; and we had therefore to retrace 
our steps to a point where there was a wretched bridge ; 
thence we reached the top of a hill, from which we saw 
at some distance a very handsome château and a large 
church. On arriving there we found that the former had 
been sacked by the light cavalry. 

The day following (30th August) the army remained 
in its positions. The guns of each division were pointed 
towards the different roads by which the enemy might 
appear. The Emperor was at Viazma, whence he directed 



the third corps to march in support of the King of Naples, 
who, so far, had pursued the Russians on the road to 
Moscow, without having been able to bring them to an 

The Bavarian cavalry under General Preyssing led 
the way when the advance was resumed (31st August) 
and with them marched the Viceroy and the staff. On 
our road we came to two handsome châteaux, which, 
however, had been entirely looted. We halted at the 
second, and found ourselves in a beautiful park, the walks 
through which were very delightful ; the buildings had 
been recently redecorated, but they presented nothing but 
a scene of the most appalling destruction ; nothing was to 
be seen but broken furniture ; fragments of priceless 
porcelain were scattered about the garden ; and en- 
gravings of great value, torn from their frames, were 
blowing about at the mercy of the winds. 

The Viceroy had pushed forward the light horse 
beyond the château of Pokrow, but observing that the 
infantry were a long way behind he feared to endanger 
them ; so, retracing his steps, he established himself at 
the château, where some provisions were found, and 
particularly a supply of oats and excellent forage. 

Since the actions at Witepsk, the fourth corps had not 
encountered the enemy; we had not even seen those 
squadrons of Cossacks which, during the first Polish 
campaign, incessantly harassed our troops and intercepted 
our convoys ; but after leaving Viazma it was necessary 
to proceed with more caution. 

As a matter of fact, we were almost certain that we 
should soon meet with resistance. On the 1st of 
September, when only about one-half of our customary 
march had been accomplished, our advance-guard was 

' 8 7 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

checked by Cossacks ; two or three cannon-shots herald- 
ing this encounter. Prince Eugene immediately threw 
the cavalry of the Italian Guard into order of battle, and, 
preceded by a cloud of skirmishers, they drove before 
them the enemy's squadrons, who retired as we advanced. 
They so continued to act as far as the environs of Ghiat, 
which the Emperor had just taken. Above this town 
there was a small stream which they crossed, and a 
moment afterwards, as if to observe us, they ranged 
themselves in order of battle upon the plateau which 
commands the plain over which we had arrived. The 
Viceroy, after having ordered me to sound the fords 
through the river, directed the Bavarians to cross it at 
the point which had been found practicable, and which 
was situated between two small villages held by Cossacks. 
No sooner had the Cossacks observed this movement than 
they abandoned the villages and the plateau, which were 
promptly occupied by the Bavarian cavalry followed by 
their artillery. Arrived on this height, we saw that on 
all sides the enemy were taking to flight. They were at 
once energetically pursued, but as night was falling, our 
corps proceeded to take up its quarters in the little village 
of Paulovo, situated half a league from Ghiat. 

The headquarters having remained for three days in 
this town, we stayed at Paulovo and Woremiowo (2nd 
and 3rd September). An order of the day was here 
published in which the Emperor, in granting repose to 
the army, invited it to take the opportunity to replenish 
its supplies, clean its arms, and prepare for the battle 
which the enemy seemed ready to accept; and looting 
parties were warned to rejoin the ranks on the following 
evening under pain of forfeiting the honour of participating 

in the fight. 




Russian army of Moldavia — Its danger to Napoleon — Russians, tired of 
retreating, resolve to fight — Kutusoff made Commander-in-Chief — Joy 
of Russians at his appointment — Capture of Russian redoubt with fearful 
slaughter — Preparations for the battle — Napoleon's stirring address to 
the army. 

NAPOLEON, after the capture of Smolensk, was 
aware that Alexander, having concluded peace 
with the Turks, would very soon have the army of 
Moldavia at his disposal. In spite of this knowledge and 
the urgent advice of his best generals, he pursued his 
conquests without troubling himself about the future. 
The Russians, however, alarmed at the disastrous plan 
adopted by Barclay de Tolly, clamoured for a decisive 
battle. In these circumstances all eyes turned towards 
Prince Kutusoff, the glorious conqueror of the Turks, 
who, owing to a Court intrigue, was living in obscurity 
on his estates, while his victories had paved the way to 
a settlement with the Ottoman Porte. 

This General, regarded by every Russian as the hope 

1 The great and sanguinary engagement called by the French the Battle 
of the Moskwa, is known to the rest of the world as the Battle of Borodino. 
Moskwa is the name of the river in the neighbourhood of which it was 
fought ; Borodino is the village around which the most desperate fighting 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

of the fatherland, assumed his new position on the 29th 
August at Czarevo-Saimiche. The officers and soldiers 
hailed with delight the return of this old veteran, so 
famous in the annals of Russia, as their leader. The 
inhabitants of Ghiat told us that his mere presence 
had filled the whole army with joy and hope. Hardly 
had he arrived, when he announced that the retreat was 
ended, and that with the object of saving Moscow, from 
which we were only four days' march, he had selected 
between Ghiat and Mojaisk a strong position, where one 
of those memorable battles would be fought which often 
decide the fate of Empires. Each side felt confident of 
victory. The Russians were inspired with the determina- 
tion to defend their country, their hearths, and their 
children ; we, on the other hand, accustomed to conquer, 
intoxicated with success, longed impatiently for the 
conflict, and in virtue of the superiority which courage 
gives over numbers, we only discussed on the eve of the 
battle what would be the fruits of victory on the morrow. 

The staff had just entered the village of Woremiewo, 
where a fine château belonging to Prince Kutusoff was 
situated, when the Viceroy, accompanied by several 
officers, set out to reconnoitre the environs. He had 
hardly proceeded for a quarter of an hour when it was 
found that the whole plain was swarming with Cossacks, 
who advanced as if with the intention of charging the 
group which surrounded him, but on seeing the dragoons 
who formed our escort they fled and did not reappear in 
the neighbourhood of Woremiewo. 

While we remained in this village some soldiers of the 
106th Regiment, in the course of a marauding expedition, 
seized a postchaise in which were a Russian officer and 
surgeon. On being taken before the staff, the former 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

asserted that he came from Riga, his native town, and 
that he was proceeding to the headquarters of General 
KutusofT, who some days previously had replaced Barclay 
de Tolly. Although this officer was "decorated," and 
belonged to an influential family of Livonia, the Prince 
declined to see him, suspecting with reason that he had 
risked capture in order to act the spy on our movements. 
Several peasants, surprised in the midst of the fields, in 
the neighbourhood of Mojaisk, where we knew the enemy 
was entrenched, seemed to change these conjectures into 

After passing two days in Woremiewo, we left it (4th 
September) and passed through forests, where it was said 
that Cossacks had been encountered. Reports from the 
advance-guard confirming this statement, the Viceroy was 
obliged to order a halt in a plain where we found ourselves 
on issuing from a wood, and where all our corps was 
assembled. The Prince put himself at the head of the 
cavalry, the infantry following, and the Guard as a reserve 
bringing up the rear. On arriving close to the little 
village of Lowzos we were stopped by a small river. The 
Cossacks, drawn up on the other side, appeared to be 
forming into squadrons to oppose our passage, but our 
cavalry having reascended the ravine, the Russians feared 
lest we should fall upon their rear, and decided to beat a 

During the whole of our march, we had heard on our 
right a heavy cannonade, which seemed to indicate that 
we were not far from the road along which Napoleon was 
marching, and the smoke of the guns and several villages 
on fire were to be seen in that direction. Close to the 
post station of Ghridneva was an immense ravine, which 
intersected the high road, and on the side opposite to us 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

there rose a plateau, upon which the Russians had 
mounted batteries at the close of a sanguinary combat 
which had taken place during the day. 

The enemy perceiving that the fourth corps was 
debouching on its right, employed a large force of cavalry 
to keep us in check under cover of a wood. The Viceroy 
ordered Colonel Rambourg of the 3rd Italian Chasseurs 
to charge them, but the Cossacks, who were doubtless 
part of the regular army, observed this movement without 
dismay, and when the chasseurs were on the point of 
charging they issued from the wood, with loud yells of 
" Hourra ! hourra ! " — a war-cry which has since become 
famous, and which the Tartars utter when they rush on 
their foes. The Italian chasseurs received them without 
flinching ; the mêlée was very sharp, but only lasted for 
an instant. The Cossacks having noticed the advance of 
the Bavarian light horse, abandoned the struggle and left 
several prisoners in our hands. 

The Russians, maintaining their positions, delivered a 
hot fire from the summit of the plateau upon our corps as 
it advanced, and several shot fell in the midst of a group 
of officers belonging to our general staff. In spite of that, 
we reached the great ravine and effected our junction with 
the advance-guard of the Grand Army commanded by 
the King of Naples, We recognised him from afar by 
his white aigrette ; and at the head of his troops he was 
conspicuous as the beau idéal of a dashing soldier. 

Immediately Prince Eugene had satisfied himself of 

the presence of the King of Naples, he joined him to 

arrange their combined operations. They met in the 

midst of the batteries, and with complete sang froid 

continued their conversation while several persons in their 

vicinity were killed by the enemy's fire. 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

At the approach of night we returned to Lowzos, 
where the only shelter we had was afforded by some 
miserable barns covered with straw. Hunger redoubled 
our weariness, and there was nothing available to satisfy 
it. However, we were in touch with the entrenched camp 
of Mojaisk, where Kutusoff aspired to beat us ; and he 
would certainly have succeeded if, without giving battle, 
he could have held us at bay for a few days before this 
formidable position. 

The position of Ghridneva which the Russians had 
defended on the previous evening was evacuated during 
the night. The King of Naples, burning to pursue them 
(5th September), pushed rapidly forward. The fourth 
corps, which continued to flank the left of the army, 
followed the high road, keeping itself at a distance of 
about a league. Leaving a forest infested with Cossacks, 
we passed through several villages which they had looted, 
and the desolation spread by their ravages wherever they 
went made it easy to follow their track. On arriving at 
the foot of some hills, we perceived on the summit 
some of their squadrons in battle array, around a very 
handsome château which commanded the surrounding 

Towards this point the Viceroy sent forward the 
Bavarians, who, in spite of the difficulties of the ground, 
arrived at the top in the most perfect order ; but in pro- 
portion as our allies advanced the enemy retired; and 
while they were descending the other side of the hill our 
artillery fired on them with guns which had been placed 
in position on the terrace of the château. In following 
them through the wood we arrived at an open space, from 
which were distinctly seen long columns of Russians, who, 
driven by our troops, took possession of an immense 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

plateau about half a league off, where it was confidently 
asserted Prince Kutusoff would at last try the fortune of 
battle. Upon our right was to be seen beneath us the 
Abbey of Kolotskoi, the huge towers of which gave to 
this building the appearance of a town. The glazed tiles 
with which it was covered, struck by the rays of the sun, 
glittered through the thick dust raised by our numerous 
cavalry, and served to deepen the sombre and savage 
gloom which brooded over the surrounding country ; for 
the Russians, intending to arrest our course before this 
position, had devastated in a horrible manner the whole 
plain on which we had to encamp. The green wheat had 
been cut ; the forests hewn down ; the villages burnt ; in 
fine, we had nothing to eat, no food for the horses, and 
absolutely no shelter. 

We halted upon a hill, while the centre of the army 
pursued the enemy with ardour, and compelled him to 
retire upon the plateau where he was entrenched. This 
inaction continued until towards two o'clock in the after- 
noon. At that hour the Viceroy, followed by his staff, 
went to reconnoitre the approaches of the position which 
Kutusoff had chosen. We had hardly commenced to 
survey the line when our dragoons placed as skirmishers 
announced the arrival of the Emperor. Immediately, his 
name flying from mouth to mouth brought every one to a 
standstill to await him. He soon appeared, followed by 
his principal officers, and took his stand upon an eminence 
whence he could easily survey the Russian camp. 
Napoleon having long and carefully observed this position, 
attentively examined the surrounding localities, and with 
a satisfied air proceeded to indulge in some trivial remarks. 
He then conferred with the Viceroy, and remounting his 
horse, left at a gallop to concert measures with the other 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

leaders of the corps d armée who were to co-operate in the 

In the meantime, Prince Eugene ordered Delzons' and 
Broussier's divisions to advance, the Italian Guard, left in 
the rear, being held in reserve. These two divisions had 
scarcely arrived on the plateau opposite that held by the 
enemy, when a heavy fusillade was opened on our right, 
between the skirmishers of Gerard's division and those of 
the enemy. At first our men advanced pretty close to the 
ravine which separated the two armies, but superior 
numbers obliged them to retire. 

Towards our extreme right the Russians had a redoubt 
situated between two woods, from which a murderous fire 
carried consternation into our ranks. They had con- 
structed it to strengthen their left wing, which was the 
weak part of their entrenchments. Napoleon saw this at 
once, and that there was nothing for it but to carry this 
redoubt. The honour was assigned to the soldiers of 
Compan's division (fifth division, first corps). These 
gallant fellows marched forward with a determination 
which guaranteed success. Prince Poniatowski meanwhile 
manoeuvred on our right with the cavalry to turn the 
position. When it had gained a convenient height Com- 
pan's division attacked the redoubt, and succeeded in taking 
it after an hour's struggle. The enemy, completely beaten 
abandoned the neighbouring woods, and fled in disorder 
towards the great plateau to rejoin the centre of his army. 

Compan's division, while showing itself worthy of such 
an important enterprise, paid dearly for the honour. 
About a thousand of our soldiers fell in the attack, of 
which more than half were left dead in the entrenchments 
which they had so gloriously taken. On the morrow the 
Emperor, reviewing the 6ist Regiment, which had suffered 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

most, asked the Colonel what he had done with one of his 
battalions : " Sire," replied he, " it is in the redoubt I" 

This affair was merely the prelude to a great battle. 
Before commencing it Napoleon attempted to manœuvre 
and turn the Russian left wing ; but in order to anticipate 
our attack they had placed the whole of Titschkoff s corps 
(third) and the Moscow militia in ambush behind dense 
brushwood, which covered their extreme left, while the 
second, fourth, and sixth corps of the enemy formed in the 
rear two lines of infantry protected by the works which 
connected the woods with the great redoubt, In spite of 
these obstacles our voltigeurs recommenced the combat 
with renewed desperation, and although the day was near 
its close, the firing on both sides continued with equal 
fury. At the same time several villages set on fire upon 
the right, cast a lurid and frightful glare over the scene. 
The shouts of the combatants, the iron and flame belched 
from a hundred brazen mouths, spread death and destruc- 
tion in all directions ; the soldiers of our corps, all ranged 
in order of battle, were mown down by a murderous fire ; 
and without flinching closed up their ranks when a shot 
destroyed some of their comrades. 

The darkening of the night relaxed the fusillade with- 
out relaxing our ardour ; but each of us, uncertain of the 
effect of his efforts, thought it better to reserve his strength 
and ammunition for the morrow. Hardly had firing 
ceased when the Russians, encamped as on an amphi- 
theatre, lighted innumerable fires. This illumination, 
resplendent and almost symmetrical, gave to the hills an 
aspect of enchantment, and formed an extraordinary 
contrast to our bivouacs, where the soldiers, in the absence 
of firewood, lay in the midst of utter darkness, hearing 
nothing on all sides but the groans of the wounded. 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

Our headquarters were established on the spot where 
the Italian Guard was placed in reserve. Each man, with 
brushwood for his bed, sought repose after the fatigues of 
the day, and slept profoundly, in spite of a high wind and 
an extremely cold rain. Towards midnight I was awakened 
on a summons from the chief of our staff, who told me 
that the Emperor wished to have the plan of the ground 
on which we were encamped. I handed the plan to the 
Viceroy, who immediately sent it to the Emperor. At 
dawn on the following day (6th September) the Prince 
ordered me to correct this plan, by traversing the whole of 
our line, and endeavouring to approach the enemy as 
closely as possible, so as to discover the character of the 
ground upon which he was entrenched, and above all care- 
fully to observe if there were any masked batteries or 
ravines which were unknown to us. 

Armed with these instructions I set out, and ascertained 
that the Russian camp was situated behind the river 
Kologha, upon a very confined plateau ; and that their 
left was much weakened by the loss of the redoubt which 
we had taken on the previous day. Facing us was the 
village of Borodino, a very strong position, situated at the 
junction of a rivulet with the Kologha. Upon the plateau 
were two large redoubts, separated from each other by a 
distance of about three thousand six hundred feet. The 
one in the centre had fired on us the previous evening; 
the one on the left was erected on the ruins of a hamlet 
which had been destroyed to make room for artillery. 
This last communicated with Borodino by three bridges 
thrown across the Kologha, so that that village and the 
rivulet which separated it from us served as the enemy's 
first line. 

On our extreme left the Italian cavalry had crossed 
G 97 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

this rivulet, but Borodino, situated on a height, remained 
guarded by a strong body of the enemy. The whole 
of this ground was exposed to the fire of their principal 
redoubts, as well as to that of several other smaller ones 
masked along the course of the river. As to our right, 
it will be understood that our success of the previous 
evening had enabled us to approach Kutusoff s extreme 
left, and to advance the greater part of our troops quite 
close to the plateau on which was situated the great 

We passed the rest of the day in carefully recon- 
noitring the Russian position. General Danthouard had 
fortifications reconstructed which seemed to him to have 
been placed too far back ; upon the left there were also 
erected breastworks suitable for mounting batteries of 
guns. At last all was ready for commencing a decisive 
engagement, when towards evening the Emperor sent 
a proclamation to the leader of each corps, with in- 
structions to read it to the soldiers on the morrow, 
provided the battle then took place. For though the 
position was well chosen and of great strength, the 
enemy had so often eluded us, that it was to be feared 
that he might repeat the tactics adopted at Witepsk 
and Valontina. Here, however, the long marches and 
the separation from our reserves had at last equalised the 
forces of the two combatants; and, moreover, it was 
absolutely necessary for the Muscovites to fight if they 
wished to save their capital, from which we were now 
only twenty-six leagues distant. The exhaustion of our 
soldiers and the reduction in the number of our horses 
promised the Russians an easy victory. We, on our 
side, were equally confident, as we found ourselves in 
a position where there was no alternative between 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

victory or death, and the conviction gave us such 
desperate courage that in spite of the strength of the 
enemy and his seemingly impregnable entrenchments, 
each of us looked upon our speedy entry into Moscow 
as a foregone conclusion. 

Our exertions, while crushing us with fatigue, op- 
pressed us with the necessity for sleep; but there were 
men amongst us who, mad for glory, could take no 
repose in their excited state of mind. These remained 
awake, and as the gloom of night increased, and the 
camp-fires, burning low amidst the sleeping soldiers, 
threw a fitful gleam upon the piled arms, they thought 
over the marvels of our expedition, and upon the results 
of a battle which would decide the fate of two mighty 
Empires. They compared also the silence of the night 
with the tumult of the morrow. In their imagination 
they could almost see Death brooding over the slumber- 
ing thousands, but a murky darkness concealed those 
destined to be his victims. They themselves thought 
for a moment of their parents and their native land ; 
and the uncertainty of ever seeing them again plunged 
them into melancholy. All at once, before daybreak, 
the sound of the drum was heard ; officers shouted 
" To arms ! " soldiers seized their muskets ; and all, ranged 
in order of battle, awaited but the signal to commence. 
The colonels, then placing themselves in the midst of 
their regiments, sounded the roll-call, and each captain, 
surrounded by his company, read in a loud voice the 
following proclamation : 

"Soldiers! — "Behold the battle you have so 
ardently desired ! Victory now depends on you ; for 
us it is imperative ; it will give us plenty, good winter 
quarters, and a speedy return to our native land. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

" Bear yourselves as at Austerlitz, at Friedland, at 
Witepsk and at Smolensk, so that the most remote 
posterity will recall with pride your conduct on this day, 
and that it may be said of you — ' He took part in the 
great battle under the walls of Moscow.' " 

Each man was deeply impressed with this stirring 
address, and it was hailed with enthusiastic and long- 
continued acclamations. Some were exalted by a thirst 
for glory, others by anticipations of reward, but all were 
convinced that victory alone could save us from destruc- 
tion. To the instinct of self-preservation were added 
the incentives of duty and courage. At these thoughts 
all hearts beat high, and each of us hoped that this 
memorable day would raise him to the ranks of those 
privileged beings born to excite the envy of their con- 
temporaries and the admiration of posterity. 



The Battle of Borodino begins— " The sun of Austerlitz " — Description of 
the battle — Fearful carnage — Alternate successes — Awful spectacle with- 
in the great redoubt — Great mortality among generals and other 
officers on both sides — Napoleon obtains a complete victory — End of 

SUCH was the spirit that animated the army, when 
suddenly from the midst of a dense fog we saw 
the sun that was to shine for the last time on so many 
of us, burst forth in radiant splendour. It is related that 
at this sight Napoleon exclaimed to those around him, 
" Behold the sun of Austerlitz ! " The army hailed this 
happy omen with delight, and a thrill of emotion ran 
through it at the glorious recollection. 

The grand manoeuvres carried out on our extreme 
right by the first and fifth corps under the Prince 
of Eckmiihl showed clearly that the battle was about 
to take place. The two armies were face to face, 
the gunners at their pieces, and it only remained for 
the preconcerted signal to be given. At last, on the 
7th September, at six o'clock in the morning precisely, 
a cannon-shot from one of Sorbier's batteries announced 
that the battle had begun. General Pernetti, with a 
battery of thirty guns, placed himself at the head of 
Compans' division, and skirting the wood, turned the 
enemy's entrenchments. At half-past six General 
Compans was wounded ; at seven the Prince of Eckmiihl 
had his horse killed under him. The Duke of Elchingen 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

also carried out his movement and attacked the Russian 
centre under cover of sixty guns, which General Fouché 
had posted in battery the previous evening. He was 
supported by Latour-Maubourg's cavalry corps, which 
vigorously charged the enemy's masses, formed in square, 
around the great redoubt. 

At the same time Delzons' division marched on 
Borodino, to which the enemy had already set fire. Our 
soldiers at once crossed the brook, and reached the village, 
which they captured at the point of the bayonet. They 
had been ordered to limit themselves to the occupation 
of the position, but, carried away by French élan, they 
rushed across the Kologha, and seized one of the bridges 
which connect the village with the plateau. It was at 
this juncture that General Plausonne, desiring to restrain 
the impetuosity of the 106th Regiment, was hastening to 
this point to prevent the advance, when a cannon-ball 
struck him in the middle of the body. It would be 
impossible to praise sufficiently the devotion of the 92nd 
on this occasion. Seeing that the 106th had placed itself 
in jeopardy, they crossed the bridge of Borodino and 
succeeded in bringing off that regiment, which would 
otherwise have been surrounded. 

While Delzons' division was taking Borodino, 
Broussier's, crossing the Kologha below the plateau, 
succeeded in lodging itself in a ravine close to the great 
redoubt, from which the enemy was delivering a tremend- 
ous fire. On this day the Viceroy, besides the command 
of his own corps, had under his orders Morand's and 
Gerard's divisions (first and third of the first corps) 
together with General Grouchy's cavalry. Towards eight 
o'clock, Morand's division, which formed the extreme 
right of the fourth corps, was vigorously attacked just as 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

it was getting ready to march on the redoubt, a movement 
which was to be supported by Gerard's division. 

General Morand, while sustaining himself against the 
efforts of the enemy's lines, detached the 30th Regiment 
on his left to take the redoubt. By a marvellous display 
of bravery this position was captured, and our batteries 
then crowned the heights and secured the advantage 
which the Russians had enjoyed for more than two hours. 
The parapets, turned against us during the attack, now 
became favourable for us, and the battle was lost for the 
enemy when he believed it had only commenced. At 
this point part of his artillery was captured, the rest was 
abandoned in his last lines. In this extremity Prince 
KutusofY saw that all was lost for Russia ; eager to save 
her and preserve a reputation acquired during a career of 
half a century, he addressed the generals, reanimated the 
soldiers, and renewed the combat by attacking with his 
whole force the strong positions he had just lost. Three 
hundred French guns, posted on the heights, thundered 
upon these masses, and their vanquished soldiers died at 
the base of the ramparts which they had themselves raised, 
and which they regarded as the bulwarks of Moscow — 
the holy and sacred city ! 

But the 30th Regiment, assailed on all sides, could not 
maintain itself in the redoubt which it had occupied. In 
vain did the third division, only just entered into the 
battle, rush forward to support it — it was compelled to 
yield to superior forces. This brave regiment, led by 
General Bonnamy, having thus been surrounded on all 
sides, was compelled to retire without its leader, and 
rejoin its division, which, still upon the plateau, resisted, 
with that of General Gérard, all the most strenuous attacks 
of the Russians. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Encouraged by the success which he had just obtained, 
Kutusofif brought up his reserve to risk a last throw of 
the dice. The Imperial Guard took part in the move. 
With all these combined forces he fell upon our centre, 
upon which had pivoted our right. For a moment we 
feared we were broken, and would lose the redoubt 
captured on the previous evening; but General Friant, 
having hurried up with eighty guns, arrested and crushed 
the enemy's columns, which for two hours stood to be 
torn by grapeshot, neither daring to advance nor willing 
to retire. This state of uncertainty was at once seized by 
the King of Naples to snatch from them the victory 
which they thought to have secured. He ordered a charge 
by the corps of cavalry commanded by General Latour- 
Maubourg, who penetrated through the gap made by the 
grape in the serried masses of the Russians and in the 
squadrons of their cuirassiers, who, panic-stricken by 
this bold manoeuvre, broke and fled in all directions. 

The Viceroy seized this decisive moment, and flew 
towards his right to order a simultaneous attack upon the 
great redoubt by the first, thirteenth and fourteenth 
divisions. Having formed all three in order of battle, 
these troops advanced with the greatest deliberation ; 
they had approached right up to the enemy's entrench- 
ments, when a storm of grape burst from the whole of the 
guns, and carried death and consternation into our ranks. 
Our soldiers were at first shaken by this deadly reception, 
but the Prince, foreseeing this, revived their courage by 
reminding each regiment of the glory with which it had 
covered itself on so many previous occasions, saying to 
one, " Preserve the bravery which has won for you the 
title of invincible " ; to another, " Remember that your 
reputation depends on this day." Then, turning to the 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

9th of the line he said with emotion, " Brave soldiers, 
remember that at Wagram you were with me when we 
pierced the enemy's centre." By these words, but still 
more by his example, he inflamed their valour to such 
a degree that the whole of the troops, uttering shouts of 
joy, marched once more against the redoubt. The Viceroy, 
passing along the line, directed the attack with complete 
sang-froid, and himself participated in it by animating 
Broussier's division ; while General Nansouty, at the head 
of the first division of General Saint-Germain's heavy 
cavalry, vigorously charged the enemy to the right of the 
redoubt and swept the plain as far as the ravine. The 
brigade of carbineers, under the orders of Generals Paultre 
and Chouard, also marched forward, crushing all who 
dared to resist them. They covered themselves with 
glory, as did also General Pajol's chasseurs. 

At this moment, a brigade of cuirassiers belonging to 
the corps under General Montbrun threw itself upon this 
same redoubt, and the scene which followed was terrible 
in its magnificence. The whole of the height which 
dominated our position appeared to be a moving mountain 
of steel ; the glitter of arms, of helmets and cuirasses, under 
the rays of the sun, mingling with the flames from the guns 
which vomited death from all sides, gave to the redoubt 
the appearance of a volcano in the midst of an army. 

The enemy's infantry, posted close by behind a ravine, 
delivered so destructive a volley upon our cuirassiers that 
it compelled them to retire ; our infantry at once took 
their place. They were supported by the third cavalry 
corps, which, commanded by Generals Chastel, Thiery 
and Dommanget, charged and overthrew all that was in 
their way. The aides-de-camp Carbonel, Turenne and 
Grammont were wounded by the side of Count Grouchy, 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

who was himself hit shortly afterwards ; but he forgot 
the blood which flowed from his wound when he saw that 
the redoubt was ours. Our troops, on entering the en- 
trenchments, perpetrated a horrible massacre of the 
Russians, which all our efforts failed to restrain. 

In spite of the enemy's appalling fire, the Viceroy and 
his staff remained at the head of Broussier's division, 
followed by the 13th and 20th Regiments, and, rushing 
upon the redoubt, entered by the breach and massacred 
the gunners at the cannon they were serving. KutusofT, 
struck with consternation at this attack, at once brought 
up the cuirassiers of the Noble Guard to endeavour to 
retake the position — it was the best cavalry in his army. 
The shock between these cuirassiers and ours was terrible, 
and the fury with which they fought may be realised when 
it is stated that the enemy, in abandoning the field of 
battle, left it covered with the dead of both sides. It was 
in this sanguinary mêlée, for ever glorious for the stafïofthe 
fourth corps, that young Saint- Marcelin de Fontanes was 
wounded. He was one of the first to enter the redoubt, 
and received a severe sabre cut in the neck, which earned 
for him the Cross of the Legion of Honour, a distinction 
all the more flattering in that it had been gained upon the 
battlefield, and at an age when usually it could only have 
been hoped for at a later day. 

The interior of the redoubt presented a frightful 
spectacle ; corpses were piled one upon the other, and 
amongst them were many wounded, whose groans were 
heart-rending ; arms of all kinds were scattered around ; 
the breastworks were almost destroyed, and the embrasures 
could only be recognised by their guns, most of which, 
however, were overturned and detached from their 
shattered carriages. In the midst of this scene of ruin 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

I noticed the body of a gunner who wore three orders 
on his tunic, and who still seemed to be breathing. In 
one hand he grasped a fragment of his sword, while the 
other clutched convulsively the gun which he had been 
serving so well. 

The Russian soldiers entrusted with the defence of the 
redoubt died rather than surrender ; and the general who 
commanded them would have suffered the same fate if his 
valour had not saved his life. This gallant officer had 
sworn to die at his post and he did all he could to keep 
his oath. The last remaining of all his force, he threw 
himself into our midst to meet his death, and would have 
been slaughtered, had not the honour of making such a 
distinguished prisoner stayed the fury of the soldiers. 
Brought before the Viceroy, he was received with distinc- 
tion ; and the Prince, desirous of honouring merit in 
misfortune, consigned him to Colonel Asselin with 
instructions to conduct him to the Emperor, who, during 
this memorable day, had remained constantly with the 
centre, directing the operations, on his extreme right, of 
the Poles and the first corps. The Prince of Eckmiihl, 
by turning the Russian position at that point, facilitated 
the sanguinary and repeated attempts made by the third 
corps under the Duke of Elchingen to pierce the enemy's 
centre. Upon the left, Bagration stubbornly opposed our 
efforts, and, reinforced by the grenadier divisions of 
Strogonofif and Woronsow, at first succeeded in checking 
the Poles ; but the Duke of Elchingen, having strongly 
reinforced them by Westphalians, enabled them to resume 
the offensive, which they had temporarily lost. This 
marshal, linking Ledru's division with that of Generals 
Morand and Gérard, acted simultaneously with Prince 
Eugene and succeeded in penetrating into the midst of the 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Russian lines, preceded by numerous batteries which 
spread terror through the enemy's ranks. Such bravery 
and hardihood at last gave us the field, and secured for 
the Duke of Elchingen a glorious title, which connects his 
name with one of the most memorable of victories. 1 

The attention of the Viceroy was being devoted 
exclusively to his centre, when he was summoned to his 
left by a great movement of cavalry which the enemy was 
directing against that wing. General Delzons, who since 
morning had been menaced by this cavalry, formed his 
first brigade in squares to the left of Borodino. Several 
times he seemed on the point of being attacked, but the 
enemy, seeing that he could not be broken, transferred 
himself to our extreme left, and delivered a violent charge 
upon our light horse, commanded by Count Ornano, 
which for a moment was thrown into disorder. The 
Prince, who happened then to be close to this point, 
placed himself in the centre of a square formed by the 
84th Regiment, and was preparing to put it in motion, 
when the Cossacks were in their turn recalled, and taking 
to flight relieved our left, and order was completely restored. 

The Viceroy, however, rode along the line in all 
directions, exhorting the generals and colonels to do 
their duty, reminding them that on the result of this day 
would depend the glory of the French name; going to 
each battery, he ordered the guns to be advanced in 
proportion as he observed the Russians giving way, and, 
utterly indifferent to danger, pointed out to the gunners 
the direction in which they should fire. While thus 
visiting all the most perilous positions, his aide-de-camp 
Maurice Méjan was wounded in the leg ; he himself 

1 Ney was created Prince of the Moskwa for his distinguished services on 
this occasion. 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

General GifTlenga and the equerry Bellisomi, had their 
horses shot under them. The Prince, having stationed 
himself on the parapet of the great redoubt with his 
officers, surveyed the enemy's manoeuvres from the 
embrasures, entirely ignoring the shot which were rain- 
ing upon him from every direction. Among those who 
formed his suite was Colonel Bourmont, whose great merit 
was only equalled by his rare modesty. This officer, like 
several others, had alighted, and was leaning on the neck 
of his horse, when General Guilleminot, having dropped a 
paper, the Colonel stooped to pick it up. This movement 
saved his life, for at that instant a cannon-ball went 
through the breast of his charger. 

Although the two redoubts had been taken, the enemy 
still held a third, situated upon another plateau separated 
by a ravine. From that quarter, the enemy, establishing 
batteries accurately served, delivered a terrific fire upon 
our regiments, some of which were under covered ways 
and others behind entrenchments. For several hours we 
remained inactive, quite persuaded that KutusorT was 
beating a retreat ; the artillery alone continued to vomit 
flames and death from all directions. It was at this 
juncture that General Huard, commanding the second 
brigade of the thirteenth division, was killed. Companion 
in arms of General Plausonne, they both perished on the 
same day ; united during their lives, it was ordained that 
they should not be separated in death, and both were 
interred upon the battlefield which had witnessed their 

For more than ten hours the attacks of the enemy had 
been stubbornly resisted, and although the battle was by 
no means over, there was scarcely a division which had 
not suffered the loss of one or more of its leaders. The 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

number of generals wounded reached a total of thirty, 
among whom were Grouchy, Nansouty, Latour-Maubourg, 
chiefs of , army-corps, and Friant, Rapp, Compans, Dessaix 
and Laboussaye, generals of division. The Russians, on 
their side, had some forty thousand men placed hors de 
combat, and fifty generals killed or wounded. Amongst the 
latter were Prince Bagration, who died a few days after 
from his wounds, and Charles of Mecklenburg; also 
Generals Tutschkoff, Rajewski, GortschakofT, Kauvoitzen, 
Gregoff, Woronsow,Krapowitski, and the two Boekmetieffs. 

Although victory was ours, the cannonade never 
ceased and each moment struck down new victims. 
Always untiring, and contemptuous of danger, the 
Viceroy galloped over the battlefield amidst a continuous 
hail of grape and musketry. This torrent of fire never 
abated for an instant, and towards evening it was still so 
fierce that it was necessary to order the legion of the 
Vistula, under General Claparède, to kneel down behind 
the great redoubt. We had remained for more than an 
hour in this harassing position, when the Prince of 
Neuchatel having arrived, conferred with the Viceroy 
until towards nightfall. Their conference having ended, 
Prince Eugene dispatched various orders to his divisions 
and ordered firing to cease. The enemy then became 
quieter, only firing a few shots at intervals, and the 
silence of his last redoubt showed beyond question that 
he was retiring by the road to Mojaisk. 

The weather, which had been magnificent during the 
day, became cold and wet towards night, and the army 
encamped upon the field it had won. This bivouac was 
cruel : neither men nor horses had anything to eat, and 
the want of firewood subjected us to all the rigours of a 
rainy and icy night. 



Aspect of the field of battle — Fearful Russian losses — Pursuit of Russians — 
Rising of peasants at Rouza — They are crushed — Looting of Rouza— 
Panic from Cossacks— Departure from Rouza. 

EARLY next morning (8th September) we went 
again over the battlefield, and what had been 
predicted on the previous evening was found to be the 
fact. The enemy, in view of the audacity with which we 
had taken his redoubt, despaired of his position, and 
during the night decided to evacuate it. It was only 
then that, in traversing the plateau which had been the 
scene of the battle, we could realise the immensity of the 
losses which the Russians had sustained. Upon a space 
of about a square league, the ground was strewn with the 
dead and wounded. In some places bursting shells, in 
overturning a gun, had blown to pieces both men and 
horses. Similar discharges, continually repeated, had 
caused such destruction that the plain was covered 
with mountains of corpses. The few places where this 
was not the case, were littered with broken weapons ; 
lances, helmets and cuirasses ; or, with cannon-balls so 
innumerable that they seemed like hailstones after a 
violent storm. The most appalling sight was the interior 
of the ravines. By a natural instinct, almost all the 
wounded had dragged themselves there to escape the 
fire, and these poor wretches, piled one on the other 
and weltering in their blood, uttered the most heart- 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

rending groans, and loudly invoking death, implored 
us to put an end to their frightful torments. The 
ambulances being quite insufficient, our fruitless pity was 
perforce restricted to deploring the suffering inseparable 
from so atrocious a war. 

While the cavalry was pursuing the enemy, the 
Viceroy ordered his engineers to demolish the redoubt, 
and as we still remained encamped on the battlefield, 
we presumed that we should there have to pass the 
next night. The Prince had ordered his household to 
establish themselves in the church at Borodino, the only 
building which had escaped the general havoc, but it 
was full of wounded, upon whom the surgeons were 
busy with amputations. His ménage therefore proposed 
to betake themselves to the village of Novoë, near 
the road to Mojaisk, and situated on the banks of 
the Kologha. They were on the point of entering the 
château, when bands of Cossacks obliged them to beat 
a precipitate retreat. 

In these circumstances, the Viceroy, having learnt 
that the fifteenth division, just returned from Witepsk, 
had rejoined its corps d'armée, gave the order to move 
forward. On arriving at the village above which stood 
the redoubt abandoned by the enemy, we left on our 
right the main road to Mojaisk, which was that taken by 
the centre, and followed the course of the Kologha. 
During this march, we convinced ourselves that it would 
have been impossible to turn the Russian position on 
that side. Not only had they camps of reserve at this 
point, but several masked redoubts along the banks of 
the river. Half a league beyond the village of Krasnoï 
we found four others, which covered Mojaisk, and the 
extreme right of the entrenched camp of Borodino, 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

On quitting the battlefield we left as a guard a 
detachment formed of all the stray soldiers we could 
collect, and placed them under the command of Colonel 
Bourniout. This thankless mission was zealously carried 
out by that officer, who, after having destroyed the 
enemy's works, rejoined us some days later. During all 
that time he lived in the midst of the dead and dying, 
and was obliged to procure food from a distance of over 
five leagues. 

The Château of Krasnoë, as well as the village of that 
name, where our corps halted, is situated on the Moskwa. 
The following day (9th September) we passed that river, 
and feigned to march upon Mojaisk by its right bank 
but the Viceroy and his escort only advanced as far 
as the outskirts. From there we beheld several houses 
of this ill-fated village in flames, all the inhabitants 
having fled ; but our dragoons, in searching the houses 
on our side of the river, took several prisoners. Some 
batteries posted upon a height situated behind Mojaisk, 
showed that we were masters of the town. We were told, 
in fact, that Napoleon had taken it after a glorious engage- 
ment ; and that the enemy had only abandoned it after an 
obstinate defence, leaving it full of dead and wounded. 

Our staff examined the environs of Mojaisk, while the 
troops, turning to the left, followed the main road running 
through woods, on emerging from which we found a 
good-sized village, and a little farther on another larger 
one called Vedenskoë in an enchanting situation, where 
there was a château, the furniture of which corresponded 
to the splendour of its exterior ; but in an instant every- 
thing was destroyed, and nothing remained but some 
thousands of bottles of wine, which were seized by the 

H 113 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Pursuing our route through the midst of brushwood, we 
arrived at a large village called Vrouinkovo, which we 
assumed was to be our headquarters. On entering the 
place we saw, a little farther on, upon rising ground, some 
fine houses and four belfries symmetrically constructed. 
We would have established ourselves in the village, where 
plenty seemed to reign, if we had not been informed that 
our corps was to proceed to the town whose belfries 
were in sight, and which was called Rouza. On leaving 
Vrouinkovo, we observed a number of peasants, with 
vehicles loaded with all their most precious belongings. 
Such a novel sight evoked general astonishment, and on 
my asking Colonel Asselin to explain the reason of this 
concourse of country people, he replied as follows : 

" In proportion as our armies advance into the interior 
of Russia, the Emperor Alexander, in order to aid the 
intentions of the nobility, desires to follow the example 
of Spain and make this war a national struggle. In 
accordance with this plan, the nobles and the parish 
priests have, by means of their money and their exhorta- 
tions, persuaded the peasants who were under their 
domination to rise against us. Of all the districts which 
have adopted this plan of defence, that of Rouza has 
shown itself most determined in its execution. The 
whole population, stimulated by the landowner, who has 
been the prime mover in the rising, has been organised on 
a military basis, and was ready to join the Russian army 
as soon as it received the order to do so. 

11 As Rouza is five or six leagues from the main road, 
the inhabitants had entertained the hope that we would 
not pass through their town, and in this persuasion they 
lived contented and tranquil. What was their surprise, 
however, when by order of the Prince I arrived before 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

Rouza with a dozen Bavarian chasseurs. You would then 
have seen the terrified peasants rushing from their houses, 
harnessing their horses to the vehicles you observed, and 
driving them before them escaping in headlong flight. 

" The men, however, who had been selected to take 
part in the rising, having assembled at the call of their 
master, armed with staves, pikes or scythes, met on the 
Uace and in an instant advanced towards us ; but this 
cowardly mob were quite unable to withstand a handful 
of soldiers inured to war, and immediately took to flight. 
The Seigneur alone showed more courage. He awaited 
us on the place, and armed with a dagger menaced all 
those who summoned him to surrender. ' How can I 
survive the dishonour of my country ? ' cried he, foaming 
with rage ; ' our altars are cast down, our empire is 
blasted. Kill me, for life has become hateful ! ' Efforts 
were made to calm him, and to deprive him of his dagger, 
but he only became more furious, and struck several of 
our soldiers, who thereupon, thinking of nothing but ven- 
geance, ran him through with their bayonets. 

" This episode was scarcely ended, when our advance- 
guard entered Rouza. The peasants who had decamped 
with their effects and cattle, were promptly pursued and 
quickly overtaken, and those whom you see here are part 
of the fugitives. But go into the village and you will see 
much more." 

As we approached, numbers of small vehicles escorted 
by horsemen were encountered, and it was touching to 
observe that they were filled with children and infirm 
old men. One's heart could not fail to be moved by the 
knowledge that those carts and horses, which constituted 
the whole fortune of those desolated families, would soon 
be divided among the soldiery. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

At last we entered Rouza and found a crowd of 
soldiers looting the houses, without paying the least 
regard to the cries of the owners, or to the tears of a 
mother who, to soften the hearts of the conquerors, held 
up her infant on her bended knees. This rage for plunder 
might have been excusable for some who, dying of 
hunger, only sought to procure food ; but most of them, 
under this pretext, simply sacked everything, and even 
stripped the clothes off the women and children. 

The Viceroy, who had arrived some hours previously, 
at Rouza, attended only by his staff, had left between 
that town and Vroumkovo the infantry divisions and 
the Royal Guard who were encamped in our rear. 
Every one, delighted to find himself in such an agreeable 
town as Rouza, gave himself up to the security or rather 
to the disorder which plenty engenders after long 
privations, when all at once, some Bavarian light horse, 
who had been out reconnoitring, returned at full gallop, 
with the news that the Cossacks, marching in squadrons, 
were advancing on the town. Imagine the sensation 
caused by this news ! The tranquillity which we had 
been enjoying, contrasted with the imminence of the 
danger, was for us a plunge from joy into consternation. 
" The Cossacks are upon us," cried one ; " Here they are 
arriving," yelled another, in terror-stricken tones. " What 
have we to resist them ? " was the general inquiry. 
" Nothing," was the reply ; " there are only a few 
scoundrelly soldiers who have come here to plunder 
peasants." Nevertheless they were our only hope. They 
were promptly assembled on the place, and were found 
only to number sixty, all told, and of these quite one- 
half were unarmed. 

The Viceroy, informed of the cause of this commotion, 


The Moskwa (or Borodino) 

mounted his horse and told his officers to follow him. 
We hastened out of the town, and entered upon the plain, 
but imagine our astonishment, when instead of finding 
several squadrons, we only saw a dozen or so of horsemen, 
at such a distance that they could hardly be distinguished. 
The Bavarian chasseurs whom we had with us, advanced 
to reconnoitre them, and reported that they actually were 
Cossacks. From their small number and their timid and 
cautious movements it was easy to see that they did not 
mean much mischief. 

As these Cossacks might have been detached from a 
considerable body, the Prince deemed it necessary to 
confirm the order already given to advance the troops ; 
but he modified it, limiting the movement to two 
battalions instead of including in it the whole of the 
thirteenth division, as at first directed. These two 
battalions, having encamped beyond Rouza, dissipated 
our fears. All then tranquilly returned to their quarters, 
where a well-served table and exquisite wines soon 
enabled us to forget the alarm which had disturbed the 
close of the day. 

We remained next day at Rouza. The Viceroy 
profited by this rest to get a report drawn up by General 
Guilleminot, the chief of his staff, giving a very detailed 
account of the famous day of the 7th September, when 
the fourth corps had particularly distinguished itself. 

While the thirteenth and fourteenth divisions submitted 
to the Emperor the claims they had on his consideration» 
the fifteenth, not less trusty than the others, but deprived 
of the honour of fighting at the battle of the Moskwa, 
could none the less ask for some reward in recompense 
for the hardships which it had endured during the 
expedition against Witepsk. This division, continually 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

marching through swampy meadows, and villages either 
deserted or sacked, had been frequently without food, 
and constantly suffering the most frightful hardships in 
its endeavour to overtake an enemy who always fled at 
its approach. During a period of nearly twenty days it 
had done nothing but march through a country which we 
had ravaged, until at last, overcome by want, fatigue and 
disease, this unfortunate division only managed to arrive 
at Borodino on the morrow of the battle. Its fatigue, 
and above all its heavy losses, obliged the Viceroy to 
leave it in reserve. It was the highest mark of his esteem 
that the Prince could accord, to associate it with the 
veterans of the Royal Guard, the greater part of which 
had been recruited from this division. 

On leaving Rouza, it was decided to retain that 
position, which was of all the more importance in that it 
still contained food in abundance, and that a kind of 
fortress, situated upon a mound and surrounded by wide 
ditches, could serve as a refuge for the garrison, and 
secure it from a coup de main. This honourable command 
was entrusted to Captain Simonet de Maison-Neuve, who 
did not betray the confidence reposed in him, for during 
the whole of his mission, this active and intelligent officer 
rendered himself as valuable to the army by his foresight 
as by the skill of his dispositions. 




March on Moscow — Panic in the capital — Entire desolation of country by 
Russians — Abbey of Zwenighorod — Interview with a monk — His 
description of Russian plans — His opinion of Napoleon — Letter from 
Moscow describing events — The Metropolitan of Moscow — His fervent 

AFTER the battle of the Moskwa our victorious army 
marched in three columns on the capital of the 
Russian Empire. Napoleon, impatient to capture it, 
pursued the enemy with his accustomed impetuosity by 
the high road from Smolensk, while Prince Poniatowski, 
at the head of the fifth corps, followed that of Kaluga. 
The Viceroy, with the fourth corps, continued to flank 
the left, and by the road through Zwenighorod, directed 
himself upon Moscow, where the whole army was to 

One could judge of the consternation which reigned in 
the capital by the terror which we inspired among the 
peasantry. Hardly had the news spread of our arrival 
at Rouza (9th September), and of the ruthless manner in 
which we had treated the population, when all the villages 
upon the road to Moscow were precipitately abandoned 
We created universal panic, and many of those who fled 
seized with a kind of despair, burnt their houses and their 
châteaux; and the wheat and other corps which had 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

recently been harvested. The majority of these wretched 
people, cowed by the futile and fatal resistance of the 
militia at Rouza, threw down their pikes and fled hastily 
to conceal themselves, with their wives and children, in 
the dense forests which spread along our route. 

It was hoped, however, that in the vicinity of Moscow, 
civilisation, which always has an enervating effect, and the 
instinct of property, so natural to the inhabitants of great 
cities, would have induced the people of the neighbour- 
hood to remain in their dwellings, in the belief that the 
looting by our soldiers had been provoked by the deserted 
state of the villages. But the land around Moscow is not 
in the possession of individual owners among the inhabit- 
ants of the city ; it belongs to the landowners who had 
declared against us ; and their peasantry, quite as subser- 
vient and enslaved as those of the Dnieper and the Volga, 
obeyed the behests of their masters, who had ordered 
them, under pain of death, to flee on our approach, and to 
bury or conceal in the woods everything that could by 
any possibility be of use to us. j 

On entering the village of Apalchtchouima we beheld 
the execution of this fatal measure. Houses deserted, 
the château abandoned ; furniture smashed to pieces, and 
provisions ruined, presented a scene of unparalleled 
desolation, which proved to us the extremities to which 
a people can resort when it is great enough to prefer its 
independence to its material welfare. 

Close to Karinskoë, a village situated about half-way 
to Zwenighorod, for which we were bound, Cossacks were 
signalled. In accordance with their usual practice, they 
did not face our advance-guard, but limited themselves 
to watching us by moving on our left along a ridge of 
hills parallel with the high road. On the summit of these 



hills and beyond a dense birch wood, rose the grey walls 
and towers of an ancient abbey. At the foot of the hill 
was the small town of Zwenighorod, built on the banks of 
the Moskwa. There the Cossacks united, and forming 
into several groups, exchanged shots for some time with 
our voltigeurs ; they were, however, gradually dislodged 
from the shelter they had chosen, and we took up our 
position around Zwenighorod. 

Situated above this small town, the abbey surveys the 
course of the Moskwa. The battlemented walls, more 
than twenty feet high, and from five to six feet thick, are 
flanked at the four corners by great embrasured towers. 
This edifice, built in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, 
carries us back to the times when the Muscovites, full of 
veneration for their priests, permitted the sacerdotal power 
to surpass that of the noble ; and when the Czar on holy 
days walked beside the Patriarch of Moscow, holding the 
bridle of his horse. But these monks, so powerful and 
arrogant before the reign of Peter the Great, were reduced 
to apostolic simplicity when that great monarch, in found- 
ing his empire, confiscated their property and reduced 
their number. 

To obtain an idea of the changes effected by this 
reform, it suffices to enter the Abbey of Zwenighorod. 
At the sight of these lofty towers and frowning walls, 
we concluded that their interior would present spacious 
and commodious buildings, and that we should find 
among these religious, the plenty always associated with 
richly endowed abbeys. We were preparing to force an 
entry when an old man, whose long beard was as white as 
his habit, came to admit us. We immediately requested 
him to conduct us to the Abbot. On entering the 
court, we were extremely surprised to see that this vast 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

edifice by no means fulfilled the high expectations we 
had formed of it, and that our guide, instead of introduc- 
ing us to the apartments of the Superior, took us into a 
small chapel, where we found four monks prostrated before 
an altar constructed in the Greek manner. On approach- 
ing them, these venerable old men embraced our knees, 
imploring us, in the name of the God they worshipped, to 
respect the church and the tombs of the bishops of which 
they were the faithful guardians. " From our poverty," 
said they, through an interpreter, " you can see that we 
have no hidden treasures ; and our food is so coarse that 
your soldiers would disdain to eat it. We have no other 
wealth than our relics and our altars ; we beseech you to 
respect them in deference to our religion which so closely 
resembles your own." We gave them the required promise, 
which was confirmed on the arrival of the Viceroy, who, on 
taking up his quarters in the abbey, preserved the church 
and monastery from the pillage with which they were 

While this retreat, formerly so tranquil, was the prey 
to the tumult inevitable in such circumstances, I noticed 
one of the pious monks, who, for the purpose of disrobing, 
retired to a cell which might be said to be almost sub- 
terranean, and the austere simplicity of which had enabled 
it to escape from our inquisitiveness. This religious, 
aware of my friendly attitude, showed his gratitude by 
admitting that he spoke French, and that it would afford 
him great pleasure to have a chat with me. Touched by 
his frankness, I availed myself of it to learn from his 
conversation everything I could with respect to the 
feelings of the people, and the character of a nation whose 
territory we had overrun for more than two hundred and 
fifty leagues without being able to learn anything about 



it. When I mentioned Moscow, he said it was his birth- 
place, and I noticed that a deep sigh accompanied the 
statement. By his silent grief, I gathered that he 
lamented the misfortunes to which the capital was 
exposed. I sympathised with him ; but, anxious to know 
what was passing there, when we were about to enter it, I 
ventured to ask him the news. 

" The French," replied he, " have invaded Russia with 
a great army ; they ravage our beloved country, and they 
are advancing even towards this holy city, the centre of 
the Empire and the source of our prosperity. But, ignorant 
of our customs and our character, they think that we will 
submit to the yoke, and that, forced to choose between our 
hearths and our independence, we shall follow the example 
of others, and elect to languish in chains and abdicate 
that pride of nationality which constitutes the power of a 
People. No! Napoleon deludes himself ; too enlightened 
to submit to his tyranny, we are not sufficiently degenerate 
to prefer slavery to freedom. Vainly does he hope by his 
innumerable armies to compel us to sue for peace. Here 
again he deceives himself. Our nation is a nation of 
nomads ; and the nobles of our Empire, being able at their 
will to cause the migration of a whole population, will 
order their peasantry to flee into the wilderness to escape 
the invaders, and even if necessary to destroy town and 
country rather than allow them to fall into the hands of a 
ruthless barbarian, whose oppression is far more cruel to 
us than death. 

" We know, also, that Napoleon counts upon the dis- 
sensions which in former times broke out between the 
sovereign and the nobility ; but patriotism stifles all these 
ancient discords. He flatters himself, again, that he can 
arm the People against the nobility. Vain effort ! The 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

People, taught by religion, submit themselves to their 
superiors, and believe none of the specious promises of him 
who burns their cottages, slaughters their children, devas- 
tates our countryside, and overturns our altars. Besides, 
has not all Europe before her eyes the most convincing 
proofs of his perfidy ? Is he not the scourge of Germany, 
of which he arrogates to himself the title of protector? 
Spain through having believed in the sincerity of his 
alliance is the prey to the most frightful misfortunes. The 
Pontiff who crowned him, and who thus raised him from 
obscurity to be the most powerful monarch in the world, — 
what has he received as his reward for placing on his head 
this brilliant diadem ? A bitter captivity ! And your 
own country which from a frenzy of democracy has 
voluntarily passed under the yoke of depotism, what has 
it gained by its submission? New taxes without inter- 
mission to maintain a set of useless courtiers, or to satisfy 
the luxury of a family insatiable in the pursuit of pleasure. 
More than that, you have proscriptions without number ; 
secret executions ; thought enchained ; whole generations 
devoured until at last your very mothers deplore their 
fecundity. Such," said this estimable old man, "is the 
position to which your tyrant has reduced you ; a tyrant 
all the more contemptible and odious in that, having been 
nurtured in obscurity with hardly a servant to attend on 
him, he now demands that the whole universe shall grovel 
at his feet and that kings themselves shall dangle in his 
antechamber. Ah ! if I did not shrink from defiling the 
majesty of the monarch whom we love as he loves us, I 
would compare your Emperor with ours — but such a 
comparison would be revolting, as a contrast between vice 
and virtue." 

Struck by the energy of this religious, whose mental 


power had been in no wise diminished by age, I was 
reduced to silence, while at the same time charmed by his 
sincerity. Touched by the confidence he had reposed in 
me, I thought myself justified in opening my mind to him, 
so as to obtain from him information that might be useful 
to me. " As you have mentioned the Emperor Alexander," 
I replied, " do you know what has become of him ? Since 
leaving Wilna we have heard nothing of him ; and at 
Witepsk Napoleon, in a public audience, announced that 
this monarch had ended like his father, having fallen a 
victim at Waliki-Luki to the treachery of his courtiers." 

" A man must have very little nobility of soul," replied 
the old man with a sad smile, " who makes the death of 
one of his enemies a subject for triumph. But in order to 
prove to you the falsity of this report, and to make you 
understand what complete harmony reigns at this critical 
moment between all classes, and their devotion to their 
sovereign, I will read to you an authentic letter which was 
sent to me from Moscow a few days after Alexander, quit- 
ting the army, arrived in his capital." 

At these words he read me the following letter, trans- 
lating it as he went along : 

" Moscow, 27th July 1 81 2. 

" This will be another red-letter day in our calendar, 
and the recollection of it will be transmitted to the most 
remote posterity. 

" In accordance with a public announcement on the 
previous evening, the order of the nobility and the guild of 
merchants assembled at eight in the morning in the halls 
of the Slobode palace, there to await the arrival of our 
gracious sovereign. Although the object of the assemblies 
had not been notified in advance, all those who attended 
them were full of the sentiments aroused in every heart 
by the appeal of the Father of their country to his 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

children of the ancient capital. The very silence which 
pervaded the large gatherings unmistakably proclaimed 
their unity of feeling, and their readiness to make any 
sacrifice which the crisis might require. 

" After the manifesto of His Imperial Majesty, sum- 
moning all to the defence of the fatherland, had been 
read, the nobles announced their eagerness to sacrifice 
their fortunes, and even their lives, for the country, and 
undertook to raise, equip and maintain a force for the 
defence of Moscow. The manifesto was next read to the 
assembly of the merchants, and this body, imbued with 
the general enthusiasm, decided to levy upon its members 
a sum proportionate to the capital of each to meet the 
cost of this army of the interior. Not content with this, 
the majority expressed themselves desirous of making 
special sacrifices, and asked permission to open a volun- 
tary subscription before separating. This was at once 
taken in hand, and in less than an hour more than a 
million and a half of roubles were subscribed. 

" Such was the feeling of the two bodies, when His 
Majesty, after having attended Divine [service in the 
palace chapel, entered the assembly of the nobles. The 
Emperor, in the course of a short address, said that he 
regarded the zeal of the nobility as the surest support of 
the throne ; and that their order had shown itself in every 
age and in all circumstances the guardian and faithful 
defender of the integrity and glory of their beloved 
fatherland. He then deigned to give them a summary 
of the military position, which demanded exceptional 
measures of defence. On being informed of the resolutions 
that had been passed, the Emperor hailed with extreme 
satisfaction this new proof of devotion to his person and 
love of country ; and in the fulness of his heart exclaimed, 
1 I expected no less ; you have fully confirmed the opinion 
I had of you ! ' 

" His Majesty next proceeded to the hall where the 
merchants were assembled, and as soon as he was in- 



formed of the zeal which they had displayed in resolving 
to levy a contribution upon their whole body, the Emperor 
signified his satisfaction in words which were received 
with unanimous acclamations. To do it justice, the scene 
of this morning would require the pen of another Tacitus, 
and the brush of a new Apelles. It presented the picture 
of a monarch, the father of his country, overflowing with 
goodness, receiving from his children, massed around 
him, the sacrifices which they came to offer upon the 
altar of the fatherland. 

" May all this reach the ears of our enemy ! Of that 
vainglorious man who sports with the destinies of his 
subjects. May he learn it and tremble ! United, we 
march against him ; we are inspired by religion ; by an 
unalterable love for our Sovereign and our country. 
Together we will perish or triumph." 

After reading this letter, the worthy ecclesiastic in- 
formed me that the Archimandrite Platon, Metropolitan 
of Moscow, though advanced in age and very feeble, kept 
vigil of prayer for the safety of the Sovereign and the 
Empire, and that he had just sent to His Majesty the 
precious statue of St. Sergius, Bishop of Radouegar. 
11 The monarch," added he, " in accepting this sacred relic, 
presented it to the army of Moscow, in the hope that it 
would secure them the protection of this saint, who, by 
his benediction in olden times prepared Dimitri Douskoi 
for his combat with the cruel Maimai." 

The following is the letter of His Eminence Platon, 
dated from the Abbey of Troitsa, 26th July 18 12 : 

" The City of Moscow, first capital of the Empire of 
the New Jerusalem, receives her Christ like a mother in 
the arms of her zealous sons, and through the mists which 
spread around, foreseeing the resplendent glory of her 
power, she chants in ecstasy, ' Hosanna ! blessed is he 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

that cometh ! ' What though the arrogant, boastful 
Goliath brings from the utmost limits of France his 
mortal terrors to the confines of Russia ! the religion of 
peace, that sling of the Russian David, will swiftly beat 
down the head of his bloody pride. This image of St. 
Sergius, of old the champion of our country's welfare, we 
humbly offer to your Imperial Majesty." 

Astonished at a spirit so far removed from ours, I 
asked if it was really the fact that the Emperor Alexander 
had given this emblem to his soldiers. " I am so certain 
of it," replied the monk, " that to doubt it were sacrilege. 
The news from Moscow is to the effect that Bishop 
Augustin, vicar of the capital, having assembled all the 
troops who were in the city, chanted a Te Deum, and 
presenting them with the statue of St. Sergius, delivered 
a discourse which drew tears from every eye. We our- 
selves," added he, " have seen the soldiers passing under 
the walls of this abbey to take part in the battle of the 
Moskwa. Full of veneration for this sacred banner, they 
marched to the combat like true Christian warriors, 
devoted to their religion, to their country and to their 
Prince. These feelings were revealed on every face ; the 
celestial joy of fighting the common foe glowed in their 
flashing eyes ; each soldier, although only just enrolled 
in the ranks, burning with the courage of a veteran, 
displayed an unbounded obedience to his leaders, and 
maintained that absolute discipline which is the sure sign 
of a good soldier. Wherever they passed the country 
people earnestly invoked the protection of Heaven for 
these heroes, issuing from the ancient capital of Russia, 
which had by her own might chastised in former times 
the insolent enemies who, in their blindness, had thought 
to destroy her. 



" Alas ! Fortune did not smile upon their efforts. You 
vanquished them at Borodino, and ever since that fatal 
day consternation has reigned supreme through the land. 
The highways are covered with fugitives, who fly to seek 
safety on the frontiers of Asia ; we alone are left, and you 
may imagine our alarm, when yesterday at nightfall your 
arrival was signalled by the fires of your bivouacs which 
covered the neighbouring hills, and above all by the burn- 
ing villages, the flames of which lit up the midnight sky." 

Astonished beyond measure at the extraordinary things 
this worthy old man had told me, I was at the same time 
filled with respect for a nation, so great amidst misfortune, 
and said to myself, " That people is invincible which, un- 
shaken in its fortitude, remains unmoved in the presence 
of danger and risks its existence for the preservation of its 



March on Moscow resumed through deserted villages — Trouble from Cossacks 
— First view of the capital — Interview with citizen — He states intention 
of burning down the city — The fourth corps enters Moscow — It is found 
entirely deserted — Appalling silence — " Nerves " of French. 

WE quitted this abbey on the following day. In 
leaving it I looked back, and saw the first beams 
of the rising sun tinting the summits of those lofty walls, 
raised to be the home of peace, but which after our depart- 
ure became a scene of riot and disorder. I shook off these 
harrowing thoughts, however, and, taking the road that 
runs parallel with the Moskwa, I observed that in front of 
Zwenighorod bridges had been constructed across the river, 
doubtless to establish communication with the Grand Army 
which was marching upon Moscow by the opposite bank. 
We were still advancing when the Cossacks again 
appeared, manoeuvring as on the previous evening. Below 
Aksinimo, they attempted for a moment to arrest the pro- 
gress of the Bavarian light horse ; but having had some men 
wounded, they took to flight, and retired across the river, 
which we crossed below the village of Spaskoe. At this 
point the Moskwa, not being very deep, was easily forded 
both by men and horses. The Cossacks, who awaited us at 
the entry to a wood, scattered on observing that we had 
cleared the barrier which had separated us. Thence we con- 
tinued our march as far as Buzaievo, where there was nothing 
but the post office, and on the top of a very steep hill a 
wooden château, where Prince Eugene took up his quarters, 



On the following day, eager to get to Moscow, we 
started betimes, and encountered nothing but deserted 
villages. Upon our left were to be seen on the banks of 
the Moskwa several splendid châteaux, which the Tartars 
had gutted, to deprive us of the supplies they contained ; 
for the harvest, ready for the sickle, had been trodden 
down or eaten by the horses, and the hayricks which 
covered the country, having been delivered to the flames, 
filled the air with a dense smoke. On arriving at the 
village of Techerepkova, while our cavalry moved onward, 
the Viceroy ascended a hill to our right, and for a long 
time endeavoured by careful examination of the surround- 
ing country to catch a glimpse of Moscow, which was the 
object of all our desires, since it was regarded as the end 
of our fatigue, and the limit of our expedition. Several 
hills intervened to conceal it still from our eyes ; we saw 
nothing but great clouds of dust, which, moving parallel 
with our route, indicated the march of the Grand Army. 
Some cannon-shots fired a long way off and at long 
intervals, led us to conclude that our troops were approach- 
ing Moscow without experiencing much resistance. 

On descending from this rising ground, we heard the 
most alarming yells ; they proceeded from several " pulsks " 
of Cossacks who issued from a neighbouring wood, and 
charging our chasseurs in their usual fashion, tried to stop 
our advance-guard. Our men, far from being disconcerted 
at this unexpected attack, received with perfect coolness 
the futile efforts of this rabble to check our entry into the 
capital. As a matter of fact this attempt was the last we 
experienced, and the Russians defeated and dispersed, 
found themselves obliged to seek refuge under the walls 
of the Kremlin. 

At a great distance, and through the clouds of dust, 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

long columns of the enemy's cavalry could be distinguished, 
all marching upon Moscow, and retiring in good order 
behind the city in proportion as we approached it. The 
staff, while waiting for a bridge to be thrown across the 
Moskwa, took station at about eleven o'clock upon a high 
hill, whence we perceived in a brilliant light a thousand 
gilded domes, which, glittering in the rays of the sun, 
resembled in the distance so many luminous globes. 
These globes, placed on the summit of columns or obelisks, 
gave one the impression of balloons suspended in mid-air. 
We were transported with astonishment at such a magnifi- 
cent vista ; all the more so after the awful scenes we had 
recently witnessed. No one could now contain his delight, 
and by a spontaneous impulse there was a universal cry 
of " Moscow ! Moscow ! " 

At this name of a city so long desired, every one 
made a rush for the hill, and each moment the scene 
revealed fresh marvels. One would admire a magnificent 
château situated to our left, the architecture of which 
suggested the Orient; another directed his attention 
to a palace, or a church, but all were struck by the 
superb panorama presented by this great city, situated 
in the midst of a fertile plain, with the Moskwa winding 
through smiling pastures till it is lost in the distance. 
After having fertilised the surrounding country, this river 
passes through the centre of the capital, and divides an 
immense mass of houses built of wood, stone or brick, 
which present a curious mixture of the architecture of 
the East and West. Walls variously coloured, cupolas 
either gilded or covered with lead or slate, displayed the 
most striking variety; while the terraces of the palace, 
the obelisks at the city gates, and above all the turrets 
constructed in the form of minarets, brought actually 



before our eyes one of those famous cities of Asia, which 
until then had seemed to us to exist only in the fertile 
imagination of Arabian poets. 

We were absorbed in the contemplation of this 
magnificent view, when we observed a well-dressed man 
coming from the direction of Moscow, and advancing 
towards us. We at once hastened to meet him, and 
our suspicious minds already suggested the idea of 
making him pay dearly for his indiscreet curiosity. But 
the calmness with which he accosted us, the ease with 
which he spoke our language, and above all the im- 
patience which we experienced to hear the latest news, 
constrained us to listen to what he had to say. 

" I have not come here," said he, " to spy out your 
movements, nor to give you false information. I am 
an unfortunate merchant, utterly ignorant of all that 
relates to the war ; and although I am one of its victims, 
I have not tried to fathom the motives which have 
induced our sovereigns to engage in it. To-day at noon 
your Emperor entered Moscow at the head of his 
invincible legions, after having received an envoy who 
implored him to spare the city, which was about to be 
evacuated. But he has found the streets deserted ; a 
few escaped criminals, some abandoned prostitutes, are 
the only beings who break the solitude. Hasten, if you 
can, to put a stop to their excesses, for they have been 
set at large in the hope that all the crimes which they 
commit will be ascribed to the French army. Fore- 
seeing the misfortunes with which we are threatened, 
I have come to see if I can find among you a man 
sufficiently humane to protect my family, for, notwith- 
standing the orders of our Governor, I cannot consent 
to abandon my house to drag out a life of wandering 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

and wretchedness in the wilderness. I prefer to appeal 
to French generosity, and to seek a protector among 
those who have been represented to us as our cruellest 
enemies. The nobles of our empire, committed to a 
barbarous and destructive policy, aim doubtless at 
exasperating you by the emigration of an entire popu- 
lation, and only leaving you a deserted city in order 
to deliver it in due course to the flames." 

At these words every one exclaimed that it was 
impossible that a people could be mad enough to 
accomplish its own ruin with the doubtful expectation 
of thereby precipitating the ruin of its enemy. 

" It is only too true," replied he, " that this resolution 
has been taken, and if you still doubt it, know that 
Count Rostopchin, our Governor, left this morning some 
hours before the entry of the French. The police followed 
him, taking with them the pumps and all that could be 
of any service in extinguishing fires. In quitting the 
city, he confided to the lowest scum of humanity the 
duty of seconding his design. I cannot say to what 
extremes he may go, but I shudder when I think that 
he has frequently threatened to burn Moscow to the 
ground if the French approached it. Such an act of 
barbarism would appear atrocious to you and even 
incredible, if you were not aware of the intensity of the 
hatred with which your unparalleled victories have filled 
the nobility. They know that the whole of Europe is 
under your domination, and rather than share the same 
fate, they prefer to annihilate their country. 

" Ah ! if our nobles, humiliated with their defeats, 
have not resolved upon the destruction of the capital, 
why have they fled with all their wealth? Why have 
the merchants been compelled to follow them, taking 



with them their merchandise and money? Why, in fine 
is there not left in this doomed city a single magistrate 
to implore the mercy of the conqueror? All have fled, 
as if by that course to incite your troops to universal 
plunder, since the constituted authorities, our only pro- 
tection, in abandoning their posts have abandoned 
everything to them." 

We endeavoured to comfort him by promising him 
protection and trying to reassure him as to the fate of his 
country. Seeing that he gradually grew calmer, and that he 
was secretly flattered by the admiration we expressed of 
the magnificent appearance of the city and its environs, I 
asked him presently to give me some detailed information 
regarding it, with which request he readily complied, and 
we parted with expressions of mutual esteem. 

Although the bridge in course of construction over 
the Moskwa was not yet completed, the Viceroy ordered 
his corps to pass the river. The cavalry had already 
crossed and had taken up a position beyond the village of 
Khorechevo ; and there we heard officially of the entry of 
our troops into Moscow. The fourth corps received 
orders to halt until next day, when the hour would be fixed 
for our entry into the capital of the Russian empire. 

On the 15th of September, our corps left the village 
at daybreak, and marched upon Moscow. On approach- 
ing the city we noticed that it was not surrounded by 
walls, and that a simple parapet of earth alone marked 
its boundary. So far there had been nothing to show 
that the capital was inhabited, and the suburb by which 
we arrived was so deserted, that not only was there no 
Muscovite to be seen, but not even a French soldier. 
Not a sound was heard in the midst of this awful solitude 
A vague apprehension oppressed every mind, and in- 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

creased when we perceived dense smoke rising in a great 
column in the very centre of the city. It was at first 
supposed that this only proceeded from some magazines 
which the Russians had, in accordance with their invari- 
able practice, set on fire previous to their retreat. 
Nevertheless, remembering the statement of the fugitive 
from Moscow, we felt great uneasiness, lest his prediction 
was about to be fulfilled. Eager to ascertain the cause 
of this fire, we sought in vain for some one to satisfy our 
anxious curiosity; and the impossibility of doing so re- 
doubled our impatience and greatly increased our alarm. 

We did not make our entry by the first barrier at 
which we arrived, but, turning to our left, continued to 
march round the outskirts of the city. At last, by order 
of Prince Eugene, I placed our troops in position to 
guard the high road to St. Petersburg. While the 
thirteenth and fifteenth divisions encamped around the 
château of Peterskoe, the fourteenth established itself in 
the village situated between Moscow and the château, 
and the Bavarian light horse, under the orders of Count 
Ornano, were a league in advance of that village. 

These positions having been occupied, the Viceroy 
entered Moscow, and took up his quarters in the palace 
of Prince Memonoff in the street St. Petersburg. This 
quarter, assigned to our corps, was one of the finest in 
the city, formed entirely of splendid edifices, and of 
houses which, although built of wood, appeared to us to 
be of an astonishing wealth and grandeur. The magis- 
trates having abandoned their post, every one was at 
liberty to establish himself in one of their palaces, so that 
the obscurest officer found himself lodged in the midst 
of vast and richly decorated apartments, of which he 
might look upon himself as the owner, seeing that the 



only person to be found in the place was an obsequious 
porter, who, with trembling hand, delivered to him all 
the keys of the house. 

Since the previous evening Moscow had been in the 
possession of our troops, and yet throughout the quarter 
in which we were established neither resident nor soldier 
was to be seen, to such an extent had the city been 
depopulated. A mournful silence brooded over these 
deserted quarters, and even the most intrepid hearts 
were depressed by this awful isolation. The length of 
the streets was such that horsemen at one end could not 
recognise those at the other. Uncertain whether they 
were friends or enemies, they would mutually approach, 
and then, suddenly panic-stricken, they would turn and flee. 

Whenever a new quarter was occupied, pioneers were 
sent in advance to reconnoitre, who carefully examined 
all the mansions and churches ; but only children, old 
men and wounded Russian officers were discovered in 
the former ; while in the churches the altars were found 
to be adorned as for a fête day, and a thousand lighted 
candles, blazing in honour of the patron saint of the 
country, showed that the pious Muscovites had not ceased 
to invoke his protection. This imposing manifestation 
of religious fervour proved the devotion and steadfastness 
of the people we had vanquished, and roused within us 
those terrors of conscience inseparable from the com- 
mission of a great crime. Henceforth we only dared to 
march with fearful steps in the midst of this awful 
solitude; often stopping to look behind us; sometimes 
listening with anxious ear ; for the terrifying immensity 
of our conquest made us imagine snares in every direction, 
and at the slightest noise, our nervous tension magnified 
it into the clash of arms, and the shouts of combatants. 



Wholesale looting — Burning of "The Bourse" — Awful scene of havoc — 
Interview with French tutor — The city on fire in four places — Grand 
but terrible spectacle — Universal destruction — Napoleon leaves the 
Kremlin — Desecration of tombs of the Czars — The fire spreads through- 
out the city — Awful misery of the inhabitants — Moscow evacuated. 

ON approaching the centre of the city, and especially 
the vicinity of the bazaar, we began to see a few 
of the inhabitants gathered round the Kremlin. These 
unfortunates, misled by a deceptive tradition, believing 
that this citadel was inviolable, had attempted on the 
previous evening to dispute its possession with our 
advance-guard, commanded by the King of Naples. The 
valour of our troops soon undeceived them. Cowed by 
their defeat, they regarded with moistened eyes those 
lofty towers which they had hitherto believed to be the 
palladium of their city. Advancing farther, we saw a 
mob of soldiers publicly selling and bartering a large 
quantity of movables they had looted ; for it was only 
before the great stores of food that the Imperial Guard 
had placed sentries. The number of soldiers increased 
as we proceeded, carrying on their backs pieces of cloth, 
loaves of sugar, and whole cases of merchandise. We 
were puzzled as to the cause of all this disorder, when 
some fusiliers of the Guard told us that the smoke we 
had seen on entering the city proceeded from a large 
building full of merchandise called the Bourse, and 
that the Russians had set it on fire before retiring. 



u Yesterday," said these soldiers, " we entered Moscow 
at about noon, and this morning the fire broke out ; at 
first we tried to extinguish it, persuaded that it was 
caused by the carelessness of our bivouacs, but we have 
abandoned the attempt, as we have been informed that 
the Governor gave instructions to burn down the city, 
and to remove all the pumps, so as to prevent the fire 
being put out ; hoping by this desperate expedient to 
destroy our discipline and ruin the merchants, who 
strongly opposed the abandonment of Moscow." 

A natural curiosity urged me forward. The farther I 
advanced the more were the streets leading to the Bourse 
obstructed by soldiers and beggars, carrying with them 
all kinds of effects ; the least valuable of which they threw 
away, and the streets were thus soon littered with immense 
quantities of merchandise. At last I succeeded in pene- 
trating into the interior of the building ; but alas ! it was 
no longer the edifice once so famed for its magnificence ; 
it was rather a vast furnace from which burning rafters 
were falling on all sides. The only place where it was 
possible to remain was under the portico, where there 
were still a number of shops ; and there soldiers were 
breaking open cases, and dividing a booty which exceeded 
their utmost expectations. No shouts, no tumult were 
heard amidst this horrible scene, so intent was each upon 
satisfying his rapacity. Nothing was heard but the 
crackling of the flames, the din of the smashing in of 
doors, and then suddenly the appalling crash of a 
collapsing arch. Cottons, muslins, silks — in fact all kinds 
of the richest stuffs of Europe and Asia, were being rapidly 
consumed. Sugar had been piled up in the cellars, with 
oils, rosin, and vitriol — and all these, burning together in 
the subterranean magazines, vomited torrents of flame 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

through thick iron gratings. It was a terrifying sight, 
as such a fearful catastrophe forced upon the most callous 
mind the conviction that divine justice would one day- 
exact a terrible retribution from those who were the cause 
of this frightful devastation. 

The information which I tried to procure as to the 
cause of this fire, by no means satisfied me ; but that 
evening, on entering the palace where our staff was 
quartered, I met a Frenchman, formerly tutor to the 
children of a Russian prince. This man possessed con- 
siderable knowledge, combined with very sound and sane 
political views, all the more valuable inasmuch as, having 
long associated with the haute noblesse^ he was intimately 
acquainted with their sentiments. Moreover, he had 
personally witnessed the events which had occurred in 
Moscow since the battle of the Moskwa ; and in spite of 
his being a Frenchman, was one of the few who, by their 
discretion and abilities, had always been on intimate terms 
with Rostopchin. This meeting seemed to afford me an 
opportunity of learning what I was so anxious to know, 
especially the character of this governor, who, in spite of 
the blackest calumnies, will be venerated by his fellow- 
countrymen and held up as a model of courage and 
patriotism in all future ages. 

" Although the French," said he, " after the battle of 
Borodino marched in three columns upon Moscow, it was 
only the nobility and government authorities who were 
informed of the disaster with which the city was threatened. 
Count Rostopchin, deeming it prudent to conceal the 
truth from the people, caused it to be announced that 
the French had been defeated. This artifice served to 
prolong their illusion, but when the Russian army ap- 
peared within the walls, preceded by some twenty 



thousand wounded, and bringing with it the whole 
population of the countryside, the citizens abandoned 
their usual occupations, and gave way to the wildest 
excitement. Associations were dissolved, the public 
buildings deserted, the very artisans ceased the labour 
which provided for their families, and sharing in the 
general gloom thronged the streets in vast crowds, and 
repaired to the Governor to ask whether they were to 
remain in the city or abandon it. 

" In this critical and distressing situation, Count Ros- 
topchin proclaimed that he was about to march against 
the French at the head of a hundred thousand men, and 
ordered the construction of redoubts to protect the city. 
He also caused lances and sabres to be forged, and distri- 
buted arms among the citizens who applied for them. It was 
also stated that an English expert was secretly engaged 
in his château of Voronovo in preparing fuses and explo- 
sives, while he announced to the people that he was working 
at a new kind of balloon by means of which all the leaders 
of the French army would be exterminated. 

" At last the Governor having convoked all the most 
illustrious of the nobility, and the most wealthy and 
respected among the merchants, reminded these good 
citizens of their solemn promises to their Emperor, and 
of the touching scene when the sovereign, the father of 
his country, received from his children the offering of 
their fortunes and their lives. At this recital, Count 
Rostopchin, overcome by excess of emotion, found 
himself unable to proceed. This pathetic silence lasted 
for several minutes, and drew forth more tears than the 
most eloquent oration could have done. 

" But the recollection of the national danger overcame 
this natural emotion, and one of the nobles present, who 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

by his diplomatic connections understood the motives of 
this disastrous war, took the Governor's place, and 
addressed the assembly in an eloquent speech, in which 
he enlarged upon the sufferings endured by the Emperor 
in witnessing the misfortunes which had befallen the 
country; his earnest efforts to preserve peace; the in- 
creasing arrogance displayed by Napoleon at each fresh 
concession ; the iniquitous and unprovoked aggression of 
which he had been guilty by invading Russia; the 
hollowness of his pretension that he represented civilised 
Europe against Northern barbarism, and the wanton 
atrocities which had marked the devastating progress of 
his army through Russia. At the conclusion of this 
oration Count Rostopchin again rose, and discarding the 
popular eloquence of his proclamations, profited by the 
profound impression which the speech had produced upon 
the audience, to address it in the following terms : — 

"'Brave Muscovites! — Our enemy advances, and 
already his thunder may be heard at our very gates. The 
tyrant aims at overturning a throne, the brilliancy of 
which eclipses his own. We have yielded territory, but 
we have not been vanquished. You well know that our 
Empire, following the traditions of our forefathers, is to 
be found in our camp. Our armies are almost intact and 
are daily increased by new levies ; that of the perfidious 
invader, on the contrary, arrives diminished and exhausted. 
Madman ! he imagined that his victorious eagle, after 
having flown from the banks of the Tagus to the sources 
of the Volga, could destroy that other which, nourished 
in the bosom of the Kremlin, has soared with lightning 
flight, until hovering above us he extends his pinions from 
the pole to beyond the Bosphorus. Let us only be firm, 
and I promise you that the country will rise once more 
from its ruins, greater and more majestic than before, 



To achieve this great result, remember, friends, that great 
sacrifices must be made, and the dearest ties of affection 
ruptured. But to obtain victory no sacrifice can be too 
great, since defeat means dishonour, and the loss of 
fortune and independence. If it be the will of Heaven 
that crime shall for the moment triumph, remember that 
it is your most sacred duty to flee into the deserts, and 
abandon a country which can be yours no longer, since 
it will have been polluted by the obscene presence of our 
oppressors. The inhabitants of Saragossa, having con- 
tinually before their eyes the immortal courage of their 
ancestors, perished under the ruins of their town rather 
than bend the knee to injustice. To-day the same 
tyranny threatens to crush us. Be it so ! show the whole 
world that the memorable example of Spain has not been 
lost on Russia ! ' 

" To this discourse succeeded the most violent agita- 
tion. All the senators hailed it with transports of delight ; 
and all except seven voted that it was absolutely im- 
perative to lay Moscow in ashes. As soon as the populace 
learnt of this resolution, they thronged into the principal 
streets; and, urged by the nobility, cried that it would 
be better to perish than survive the destruction of their 
country and religion. Those who had not been endowed 
with courage by Nature, rushed home to withdraw their 
families from danger. Some taking to flight retired into 
the woods to face the horrors of famine and the rigours 
of death ; others, on the contrary, swore to defend the 
city, or to join the army which was in retreat. The re- 
mainder of the population, taking arms, sought refuge in the 
Kremlin, while the most exasperated, seizing torches, rushed 
to set fire to the Bourse, which, as you know, contained 
immense wealth, and where the French army might have 
found supplies to last them through the whole winter," 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Such was the the narrative related to me by this tutor. 
We deplored such awful misfortunes, but as everything 
remained quiet, we still hoped that the destruction of the 
Bourse would prove to be the limit of the evil. At 
daybreak on the morrow, however, what was our con- 
sternation when we saw that the fire was raging at the 
four corners of the city, and that a violent wind was 
whirling the sparks in all directions. 

The spectacle which I then beheld was the most 
appalling that imagination could conceive, exceeding in 
horror the most harrowing catastrophes recorded in history. 
A large part of the population of Moscow, terror-stricken 
by our arrival, had remained concealed in the recesses of 
their habitations, from which they were now driven by the 
flames. They crept out pale and trembling, not daring 
even to utter a muttered curse on the authors of their 
misery, to such an extent had they been struck dumb by 
terror. From their hiding-places they carried with them 
their most valuable effects, but those among them who 
were most susceptible to natural affection only thought 
of saving their families ; on one hand could be seen a son 
supporting his infirm father; on another women who 
wept bitterly over the infants whom they carried in their 
arms; and who were followed by others a little older 
hurrying on for fear of being left behind, and calling in 
piteous tones to their mothers. The old men, more 
crushed by the weight of misfortune than by years, could 
seldom follow their families, and many lay down to die 
before their ruined homes. The streets and public build- 
ings, and especially the churches, were filled with these 
unfortunates, who, lying amidst the remnants of their 
household goods, gave themselves up to hopeless despair. 

The fire, continuing its ravages, soon reached the finest 



quarters of the city. In a moment all those palaces which 
we had admired for the elegance of their architecture and 
the taste of their furniture were enveloped in sheets of 
flame. Their superb façades, decorated with bas-reliefs 
and statues, fell with a crash upon the débris of the 
supporting columns. The churches, although roofed with 
sheet-iron and lead, fell also, and with them those superb 
domes which we had seen the previous evening, glittering 
in gold and silver. The hospitals, which contained up- 
wards of twelve thousand wounded, were also soon alight, 
and the horrors which followed were such as to freeze the 
blood in one's veins. Nearly all of these wretched creatures 
perished, and those who survived might be seen dragging 
their half-burnt bodies over the smoking ashes, in an 
almost hopeless effort to escape. 

How shall I describe the frightful disorder which 
broke out when licence was granted to pillage every part 
of this immense city? Soldiers, vivandiers, convicts, 
prostitutes thronged the streets, entered the deserted 
palaces, and dragged out everything that excited their 
cupidity. Some covered themselves with cloth of gold 
or rich silks ; others threw over their shoulders priceless 
furs ; many decked themselves with women's and children's 
pelisses, and even the escaped convicts hid their rags 
under court robes ! The remainder, rushing in a mob to 
the cellars, forced the doors, and, after getting drunk on the 
most costly wines, staggered off with their immense booty. 

This frightful looting was not limited to deserted 
houses ; the confusion throughout the city and the rapacity 
of the mob reacted one on the other, and led to a destruc- 
tion almost as disastrous as the fire itself. Every house 
was ransacked by the maddened soldiery. Those with 
whom officers were lodging hoped to escape the common 
K 145 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

ruin. Vain delusion ! The flames swiftly advancing soon 
destroyed all their hopes. 

Towards evening, Napoleon, no longer feeling safe in 
a city which appeared doomed to complete destruction, 
abandoned the Kremlin, and with his suite established 
himself at the Château of Peterskoë. On seeing him pass, 
I could not behold without a shudder the leader of this 
barbarous expedition, who, to avoid the public indigna- 
tion, sought out the darkest streets by which to make his 
escape. But it was all in vain ; the flames seemed to 
pursue him, and as I saw their lurid glow light up his 
pallid face, I thought of the torches of the Eumenides 
pursuing criminals consigned to the Furies. 

The generals also received orders to quit Moscow. 
At once licence assumed the frenzy of madness; the 
troops, no longer restrained by the presence of their 
leaders, gave themselves up to the wildest excesses ; no 
retreat was safe, no place sufficiently sacred to ensure 
protection from their bestial passions. Nothing, however, 
excited their cupidity more than the Church of St. Michael, 
which contained the tombs of the Emperors of Russia. 
An unfounded tradition had led to the belief that this 
edifice concealed immense treasure, and under this delusion 
soldiers carrying torches descended into the vast sub- 
terranean chambers beneath the church to disturb the 
repose and silence of the dead. Instead of treasure they 
found only stone coffins covered in purple velvet, and 
bearing thin plates of silver, upon which were inscribed 
the names of the Czars, and the dates of their births and 
deaths. Disgusted at finding their hopes disappointed, they 
broke the coffins to pieces, and tore off the pious offerings 
whose only value consisted in the devotion of those who 
had deposited them there. To all these excesses of cupidity 



was added an orgy of lust ; neither gentle blood nor the 
innocence of youth, nor the tears of beauty were respected : 
a savage licence, the inevitable accompaniment of such a 
monstrous war, where sixteen allied nations, widely differ- 
ing in customs and language, acted as though their crimes 
could never be brought home to any one of them. 

Horrorstruck by such calamities, I still hoped that 
the darkness of night would blot out the frightful picture ; 
but, on the contrary, it only served to make the conflagra- 
tion more terrible. The violence of the flames increased ; 
they now extended from north to south, and, fanned by 
the wind, seemed to ascend to heaven. We could see the 
burning fuses that the malefactors were throwing from 
the summits of the towers ; they left trails of fire, and 
from a distance resembled falling stars. The terror that 
froze every heart was intensified by the ghastly shrieks 
of the victims of murder, or the cries for mercy of women 
struggling desperately with their ravishers, whose rage 
was only inflamed by resistance. To these frightful 
sounds was added the agonised howling of innumerable 
dogs, chained, as is customary in Moscow, to the doors 
of the palaces, and unable to escape from the flames by 
which they were encompassed. 

I attempted to seek relief in sleep, but the recollection 
of the horrors I had witnessed came crowding upon me, 
and it was long before my wearied senses found oblivion. 
Scarcely had I closed my eyes, when the glare of this vast 
conflagration awoke me with a start, and at first I was 
under the impression that it was broad daylight. Then, 
quickly recalling the events of the evening, it flashed upon 
me that my room was itself on the point of falling a prey 
to the flames. Nor was this a dream ; on rushing to the 
window I saw that our quarter was on fire, and the house 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

in which I was, in imminent danger. Sparks were falling 
in our courtyard and upon the wooden roof of our stables. 
I hastened immediately to my hosts, who, realising the full 
extent of their danger, had abandoned their usual habita- 
tion and had sought refuge in an underground apartment 
which afforded greater security. I found them there, sleep- 
ing with their domestics. They refused to leave, dreading 
the soldiers, as they said, more than the fire, and it was only 
by resorting to force that I succeeded in removing them. 

To avoid prolonging the narrative of this horrifying 
catastrophe, to which history affords no parallel, I will 
pass over a crowd of harrowing episodes, and limit myself 
to describing the appalling confusion which reigned in 
our army when the flames had enveloped the entire city, 
and Moscow had become one vast funeral pyre. 

A few stone pillars, calcined and blackened, were all 
that was left of the once stately buildings. The violent 
wind, roaring like the waves of a stormy sea, brought 
down with a terrific crash the huge sheets of iron which 
covered the palaces. The fire spread as if impelled by 
some occult power; whole quarters of the city became 
ignited, burnt and disappeared together. 

Through the dense smoke long trains of vehicles could 
be seen, laden with booty and hardly able to force their 
way through the encumbered streets. The air rang with 
the shouts of their drivers, who, fearing to be burnt alive, 
frantically endeavoured to advance, pouring out a torrent 
of the most frightful imprecations. On every side armed 
soldiers were occupied in breaking open doors in search 
of fresh plunder, and if the new spoil proved preferable 
to that which they had already seized, the latter was 
thrown away to make room for the former. There were 
many who, having piled up their vehicles with loot, carried 



on their shoulders the rest of their plunder, but the fire 
having blocked the principal thoroughfares, compelled 
them to retrace their steps ; and they wandered aimlessly 
from one quarter to another, striving to discover amidst 
this vast city, with which they were entirely unacquainted, 
some exit from the labyrinth of fire. A great number 
thus fell victims to their own cupidity, which nevertheless 
nerved them to brave all dangers, and the soldiers, carried 
away by the madness of pillage, threw themselves into 
the midst of the burning vapours, trampling over corpses, 
while the falling ruins threatened them with destruction. 
All would certainly have perished had not the insupport- 
able heat at last forced them to find safety in flight. 

The fourth corps having been ordered to leave 
Moscow, we set out on the 17th September for Peterskoë, 
where our divisions were encamped. It was just about 
daybreak when we started, and the scene which met my 
view was at once terrible and pathetic. A crowd of the 
wretched inhabitants were dragging along in tumbledown 
vehicles all the effects which they had been able to save 
from their ruined homes ; and as the soldiers had seized 
all their horses, I saw men and even women harnessed to 
these carts, in which could be seen, here an infirm mother 
of a family, and there a paralysed old man. Half-naked 
children followed these pathetic groups ; extreme depres- 
sion, so out of keeping with their age, was imprinted upon 
every face ; and if any of the soldiers approached them, 
they ran weeping to the arms of their mothers. Without 
shelter, without succour, these miserable beings wandered 
about the country, seeking refuge in the forests, but 
finding on every hand the conquerors of Moscow, who 
frequently maltreated them, and sold under the very eyes of 
these poor wretches the effects stolen from their houses. 







Unique character of campaign — Disastrous results of Napoleon's mad am- 
bition — The consequences to the French of the destruction of Moscow — 
Terrible wastage of the French army on the way there — Presages of 
coming doom — Moscow reoccupied. 

THE arrival of a victorious French army in the ancient 
capital of the Czars — the wealthiest and most 
central city of Russia, which the Russians regarded with 
veneration as holy and inviolable, was one of the most 
extraordinary events in modern history. It is true that 
our previous conquests had for many years accustomed 
Europe to look upon the success of our campaigns, 
however vast and astonishing, as a foregone conclusion 
But this expedition exceeded in colossal grandeur all 
those which had preceded it, and nothing recorded in 
history of the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, 
surpassed it either in the daring of its conception or the 
difficulty of its execution. The distance from Paris to 
Moscow, almost equal to that which separated the capitals 
of Alexander and Darius; the character of the country 
and climate, which were deemed inaccessible to the armies 
of Europe ; the fate of Charles XII. who, in attempting 
a similar project, had not dared to advance beyond 
Smolensk ; the terror of the Asiastic nations, dismayed to 
see arriving in their midst the peoples who fled before our 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

arms — all these circumstances combined to give to the 
exploits of the Grand Army an air of the marvellous, 
which recalled the most astounding episodes of antiquity. 
Such was the glamour of our conquests when they were 
seen in the full blaze of success ; but when cold reason 
compelled us to gauge the future, the picture became dark 
and gloomy in the extreme. The frightful extremities 
to which the Muscovites had been reduced proved to us 
that it was useless to negotiate with a people determined 
to make such enormous sacrifices ; and that the empty 
glory of signing a treaty in Moscow had ignited a con- 
flagration, the ravages of which would extend to all 
Europe, and give this war so envenomed a character that 
it could only end, either in the ruin of a doomed people, 
or in the downfall of the evil genius, whom God in His 
wrath appeared to have created to be a chastisement to 
men, and a new destroying angel. Moreover, no one 
with the least discretion or endowed with the slightest 
judgment could view without alarm the destruction of 
a city which for five days had been a prey to the flames, 
the glare of which still illumined our camp when darkness 
set in. What was to be the limit of our conquests? 
After Moscow, was it to be St. Petersburg? And after 
we had conquered the whole of Russia, had it not been 
rumoured that we were to march upon the Euphrates 
and the Ganges ? So that our very success was only to 
prolong the ills of our country, by suggesting fresh ideas 
of aggrandisement to an ambition which knew no bounds. 
Although the destruction of Moscow was a great 
disaster for the Russians, it was a greater still for us, as 
it assured the success of their plan to call in the rigours 
of winter to deprive us of all the fruits of our conquest. 
It was futile to argue that the burning of the capital was 



useless, and that the French army should welcome it as 
ridding them of an immense population whose excitability 
and fanaticism, would goad them into insurrection. After 
much reflection, I am convinced that in view of the 
capacity of our leader for cunning and corruption, it was 
the Russian Government that had to fear lest this popula- 
tion should become an instrument for our designs, and 
that the majority of the upper classes, seduced by the 
dangerous example, or led away by brilliant promises, 
might desert the interests of the country, to lend them- 
selves to all that Napoleon's ambition required of them. 
It was beyond doubt to avert this calamity that Count 
Rostopchin sacrificed his whole fortune in the burning of 
Moscow, knowing that this great example was the only 
way to rouse the energy of the nobility, and instil into the 
nation that violent hatred which sustained it by making 
us the object of its execration. Moreover, the city having 
been provisioned for eight months, the French army by 
occupying it could have awaited the return of spring, and 
then resumed the campaign, reinforced by the army of 
reserve which was encamped at Smolensk and on the 
Niémen ; while by the destruction of Moscow we were 
forced, on the contrary, to beat a precipitate retreat in 
the depth of winter. The hopes of the Russians founded 
on this result appeared certain of fulfilment; for our 
formidable army, in spite of making its advance during 
! the finest season of the year, had lost a third of its 
Istrength merely by the rapidity of its marching. 1 Nor 
was it possible to go into quarters elsewhere, for we had 

1 The fourth corps, on leaving Glogau, consisted of about fifty thousand 
men, and when we issued from Moscow there only remained twenty thousand 
infantry and two thousand horse. The fifteenth division, which numbered 
thirteen thousand at the opening of the campaign, and which had very little 
fighting, was then reduced to four thousand. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

made a desert of all our conquests, and our leader had 
entirely neglected to take measures to facilitate our return. 
In order to understand our distress in the midst of our 
nominal victory, it suffices to say that we were dead- 
beat with marching, and utterly discouraged by the 
stubbornness of the Russians. The cavalry was nearing 
its ruin, and the artillery horses, reduced to skeletons 
through bad fodder, could barely drag the guns. More- 
over, although we had been the unfortunate victims of 
the burning of Moscow, we could not but admire this 
unselfish devotion, and render justice to the inhabitants 
of the city, who, following the example of the Spaniards, 
have raised themselves by their courage and persistency 
to that height of true glory which makes the greatness of 
a nation. 

When one recalls the sufferings we had endured, and 
the losses which fatigue alone had inflicted on us before 
arriving at Moscow, at a period, too, when the land, 
covered with its produce, afforded us abundant supplies, 
one cannot imagine how Napoleon could be so blind or 
so obstinate as not to return at once to Smolensk, 
particularly when he saw that the capital on which he 
had counted no longer existed, and that winter was 
approaching. It must have been that, determined to 
punish his overweening pride, Divine Providence had 
given him over to infatuation, since he turned his back 
on such evidence, and was fool enough to imagine that 
the men who had had the courage to destroy their 
country, would immediately afterwards display the weak- 
ness of accepting his oppressive conditions, and sign a 
peace upon the smoking ruins of their city. Even the 
least foreseeing predicted our coming disasters, and on 
passing the walls of the Kremlin could almost imagine 



they heard the prophetic words pronounced by a Divine 
voice against Nebuchadnezzar at the height of his 
prosperity : " Thine empire shall pass into other hands ; 
thou shalt be driven from the society of men ; thou shalt 
live in exile and debasement, until thou recognisest that 
the Most High rules over kingdoms and bestows them on 
whomsoever He thinks fit." 

The day on which we entered Moscow the Russians 
retired upon the high road to Wladimir ; the main body 
of their army then returned and followed the course of 
the Moskwa to gain Kolomna, where it took up a position 
along the river. This army, accompanied by the fugitive 
population, passed under the walls of Moscow two days 
after our arrival, while the city was still burning, and was 
lighted on its way by the flames. The wind, which was 
blowing with violence, carried into its very ranks the 
débris of the fatherland reduced to ashes, and announced 
to the inhabitants that they had homes no longer. In 
spite of all these disasters, this body preserved the 
greatest order and maintained a profound silence, a 
resignation, in face of such misfortunes, which gave to 
their march the solemnity of a religious procession. 

During the four days (17th, 1 8th, 19th and 20th 
September) on which we remained near Peterskoë, 
Moscow never ceased burning. The rain fell in torrents, 
and the few houses which were in the vicinity of this 
palace, combined with the multitude encamped there, 
made it very difficult to find shelter, so that men, horses 
and vehicles had to bivouac in the middle of the fields. 
The staff, placed around the châteaux where the generals 
were lodged, were established in the English gardens, in 
grottos, Chinese pavilions, kiosks or arbours, while the 
horses, tethered under acacias or limes, were separated 



The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

from each other by hedges or flower-beds. This camp, 
which in itself was extremely picturesque, was rendered 
more so by the new costumes adopted by the soldiers ; 
most of whom, to protect themselves from the inclemency 
of the weather, had donned the garments in which we 
had seen them decked out in Moscow. There were thus 
to be seen in our camp soldiers attired like Tartars, 
Cossacks and Chinamen. Some wore Polish caps, others 
the tall hats of the Persians, Baskirs or Calmucks. Our 
army, in fact, at this period presented the appearance of 
a carnival, which gave rise to the saying that our retreat 
having begun with a masquerade had ended with a 

The abundance, however, which the army was enjoy- 
ing made us forget our troubles ; the good cheer which 
resulted from the sale of the loot brought from Moscow 
consoled us for having to endure rain above and mud 
below. For although forbidden to enter the city, the 
soldiers, attracted thither by the lust for gain, eluded the 
passwords, and continually returned loaded with food 
and merchandise. Under the pretence of foraging, they 
returned to the neighbourhood of the Kremlin, and 
groping under the ruins and ashes discovered dépôts which 
had escaped the fire, from which they extracted a pro- 
fusion of all sorts of goods. Our camp thus no longer 
resembled an army, but rather a great fair, where each 
soldier, transformed into a merchant, sold the most costly 
things at the most absurd prices. Although encamped 
in the fields, and exposed to the rigours of the weather, 
they ate, by way of contrast, off porcelain plates, drank 
out of silver goblets, and possessed, in fact, everything that 
luxury could imagine for the enjoyment of life. 

Our sojourn at Peterskoë and its gardens, becoming 


as unhealthy as it was inconvenient, Napoleon returned 
to the Kremlin, which had entirely escaped the fire, and 
the guard and general staff received orders to re-enter the 
city (20th and 21st September). On an estimate made 
by our engineers, one-tenth part of the houses were still 
standing ; and they were distributed among each of the 
corps of the Grand Army. We were assigned the same 
quarters as before, namely, the suburb of Petersburg. 



Appearance of Moscow after the fire — Convicts and prostitutes— Pitiable 
plight of surviving inhabitants — Real want and apparent plenty — 
Napoleon's absurd proclamations and "organisation" of city — Futile 
negotiations — Plan to march south into the Ukraine — Napoleon wastes 
his time in reviews — His rage at pretended "treachery" of Russians — 
Moscow finally abandoned by him. 

ON our return to Moscow we were not puzzled as to 
the selection of our lodgings. On re-entering the 
city our hearts sank when we saw that not a vestige 
remained of the handsome mansions which we had 
occupied ; they had all disappeared, and their still 
smoking ruins gave forth vapours which, hanging sus- 
pended in the atmosphere, obscured the light of the sun, 
and gave its disk a red and bloody hue. The course of 
the streets was no longer distinguishable, and it was only 
the edifices built of stone that preserved traces of what 
they once had been. Isolated among piles of ashes, and 
blackened by smoke, these débris of a modern city 
resembled the remains of antiquity. 

It was seldom possible to quarter the troops together, 
and some companies had to occupy a vast extent of 
ground, where there were only to be found detached 
houses standing at long distances apart. The churches 
being less inflammable than the other buildings, had still 
preserved their roofs, and were transformed into barracks 
and stables. Thus the neighing of horses and the horrible 

1 60 


blasphemies of the soldiery replaced the sacred harmonies 
of the hymns which formerly re-echoed through those 
consecrated aisles. 

Curious to see the state of the house where I had 
previously lodged, I searched for it in vain ; a neighbour- 
ing church which was yet standing at last enabled me to 
find it ; but in its present state I could hardly recognise 
it. It was entirely burnt ; nothing was left but the four 
walls, all cracked by the violence of the fire. I was look- 
ing with horror on such destruction when the unfortunate 
servants of this ill-fated house issued from the depths of 
a cellar. Worn to skeletons by hunger, I should have 
found their features deplorably altered, had not the ashes 
and the smoke made them utterly unrecognisable; and 
they seemed to me spectres rather than living creatures. 
But imagine the shock I sustained in recognising among 
those miserable wretches, my host, scantily clad in rags 
lent him by his servants. He now had to live like them, 
to such an extent had misfortune equalised their condition. 
On seeing me he could not restrain his tears, especially 
on showing me his children, half-naked and dying of 
hunger. His speechless grief made a most profound im- 
pression on me, and by signs this unhappy man gave me 
to understand that the soldiers, after having looted his 
house while it was burning, had actually stripped him of 
his clothes. The sight of this distressing picture tore my 
heart-strings, and while seeking to assuage his misery, I 
fear I was able to give him very barren consolation ; and 
the same man who a few days before had entertained me 
at a sumptuous repast now gratefully accepted a piece of 
bread at my hands. 

Although the population of Moscow had almost 
entirely disappeared, there still remained in the city 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

many of those unhappy beings whom misery has 
rendered indifferent to every event. These thronged 
the streets with the soldiers, served them as domestics, 
and thought themselves very lucky to receive as recom- 
pense the trifles which the soldiers threw away. A great 
many women of the town were also to be seen. This 
class was the only one that derived any advantage from 
the sack of Moscow ; for every soldier desirous of acquiring 
a partner received these women with delight. They were 
introduced into the houses, of which they at once became 
the mistresses, wasting and destroying all that the flames 
had spared. There were others who really deserved 
pity for their misfortunes, for hunger and misery often 
compelled their mothers to offer them to us. 

There was also in Moscow a class of men who were 
the most criminal of all, as they atoned for their crimes 
by the commission of still greater ones. These were the 
convicts. As long as the burning of the capital continued, 
they distinguished themselves by the audacity with which 
they carried out the orders they had received. Armed 
with phosphorus matches, they relighted the conflagration 
wherever it gave signs of dying out ; and crept furtively 
into inhabited dwellings, to set them on fire. Many of 
these abject wretches were caught red-handed ; but their 
prompt execution produced but little effect. The popu- 
lace, who always hate their conquerors, merely regarded 
these executions as part of our policy. The victims were, 
as a matter of fact, too obscure adequately to expiate so 
heinous a crime. The rough-and-ready methods by which 
they were tried threw no light upon the causes of the 
great catastrophe, and did not of course serve to vindicate 
us in the eyes of those who persisted in believing that we 
were its authors. 



A considerable number of Muscovites, who had con- 
cealed themselves in the neighbouring forests, seeing that 
the fire had ceased, believed they had no longer anything 
to fear and re-entered the city. Some looked for their 
houses and found they had ceased to exist ; others, 
hoping to find sanctuary in the temples of their God 
found that they had been desecrated. The thoroughfares 
presented a revolting spectacle ; at each step were to be 
seen dead bodies, and on many half-burnt trees swung the 
corpses of incendiaries. In the midst of these horrors the 
unfortunate inhabitants could be seen collecting the iron 
sheets which had covered the roofs to construct huts, 
which they erected in distant parts of the town or in the 
ruined gardens. Having nothing to eat, they scraped up 
the earth to find the roots of the vegetables which our 
soldiers had gathered ; or wandering among the débris 
they searched the ashes to find fragments which the fire 
had not entirely consumed. Pallid, emaciated and almost 
naked, the slowness of their movements showed the ex- 
tremity of their sufferings. Some also recollecting that 
several boats loaded with grain had been sunk, plunged 
into the river to allay their hunger with putrefying wheat, 
the stench of which was perfectly sickening. 

To soften the effect of such a recital, let me record the 
action of a French soldier who found in a cemetery an 
unhappy woman who had recently given birth to a child. 
As she was absolutely without assistance and food, this 
worthy man, touched with the cruel situation of the poor 
creature, bestowed on her the most tender care, and for 
several days shared with her the scanty fare which he had 
been able to procure for himself. 

While the bulk of the Russian army took up different 
positions, the seigneurs of the provinces in the vicinity of 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Moscow took advantage of the exasperation felt by the 
people at the sufferings inflicted on them by the war, to 
raise and arm them against us. Many made levies at 
their own expense, and placed themselves at the head of 
their insurgent peasantry. These irregular forces united 
themselves with the Cossacks, and intercepted our convoys 
arriving by the great highways. But the main object of 
these bands was to harass our foragers, and particularly 
to prevent access to the villages where supplies could be 
found. As to our various corps d'armée, they were distri- 
buted over an immense plain, covered with woods, so that 
it was impossible for them successfully to cope with a 
method of warfare which foreshadowed disaster for us in 
the future. 

In trampling over the ruins of Moscow, magazines of 
sugar, wine and brandy were often found. These dis- 
coveries, which might have been valuable under happier 
circumstances, were of little use to an army which had 
devoured all the produce of the fields, and which now saw 
itself almost without bread or meat. The want of fodder 
was destroying our horses, and in order to procure it 
we had to engage in daily combats which, for us, were 
disastrous ; for at such a vast distance from our base the 
smallest losses became of the utmost importance. 

Our real want was hidden under an apparent plenty. 

We had neither bread nor meat, but our tables were 

covered with confectionery and sweetmeats. Tea, liqueurs 

and wines of all kinds, served in rare china, or crystal 

goblets, made it evident that luxury with us was the 

neighbour of want. The extent of our needs made 

money of no value, and led to a system of exchange; 

those who had cloth bartered it for wine, and those who 

had a pelisse could procure with it much sugar and coffee. 


Malo - Jaroslavetz 

Napoleon still deluded himself with the ridiculous idea 
of inducing those who had fled from his intolerable yoke 
to return to the city, by issuing proclamations full of 
soothing phrases. With the object of inspiring them with 
some degree of confidence, he had divided the remains of 
the city into quarters, appointed governors for each of 
them ; and installed magistrates entrusted with the 
administration of justice among the few people who 
remained. The Consul-General, Lesseps, who was 
appointed Governor of Moscow, published a proclamation 
announcing to the inhabitants the " paternal intentions " 
of Napoleon ; but these " generous and benevolent " 
promises scarcely ever reached the Muscovites; and 
when they did, the actualities of the situation caused 
them to be regarded as bloodstained irony. The greater 
part of the inhabitants had fled behind the Volga, and the 
rest having sought refuge with the Russian army, and 
being animated by the bitterest hatred, only nourished 
thoughts of a terrible vengeance. 

Meanwhile Prince KutusorT, having removed his army 
to Lectaskova, between Moscow and Kaluga, in order 
to cover the southern provinces, closely hemmed in 
Napoleon ; so successfully, indeed, that the latter, in spite 
of his various manœuvres, could not extricate himself 
from his disastrous position, and found himself continually 
obliged to close in his forces. It was impossible for him 
to advance upon St. Petersburg without having the 
Russian army on his rear, and compromising our safety 
by abandoning all communication with Poland. Neither 
could he march upon the Volga, for an advance in that 
direction would only have separated him farther from his 
base. Nothing, consequently, could be more critical than 
the situation of the French army, seeing that it was forced 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

to remain in Moscow surrounded on all sides, having 
hardly any cavalry, and compelled to confront a hostile 
line forming a circle of about one hundred leagues in 
circumference. Besides all this, the capital, once so 
magnificent, now only offered a pestilential refuge in the 
midst of ruins, and the surrounding country was a desert 
without inhabitants. The Cossacks, who swarmed every- 
where, captured our transports, made prisoners of our 
messengers and slaughtered our foragers ; in fact, inflicted 
on us irreparable losses. Our condition, therefore, became 
every day more calamitous. Want and discontent eventu- 
ally increased among the soldiery; and as the crown of 
all our misfortunes, peace was recognised by every thinking 
man as beyond the range of all probability. 

In these circumstances it is interesting to note the 
harebrained schemes that were discussed in the army. 
Some talked of advancing into the Ukraine, others of 
marching on St. Petersburg, but the most intelligent fore- 
saw that ere long there would be no alternative but to 
return to Wilna. Napoleon, who always grew more 
obstinate as difficulties increased, and who had a passion 
for the supernatural, persisted in remaining in a desert 
for the sole reason that it was sought to drive him out of 
it, and believed he could compel the enemy to sue for 
peace by pretending to pass the winter in Moscow. To 
assure the success of this subterfuge, he entertained the 
idea of fortifying the Kremlin, and making a citadel of 
the massive building in the Petersburg quarter, called by 
the Russians Ostrog, but to which we had given the name 
of Maison Carrée. At last, when everything was ex- 
hausted and we had no means of subsistence left, he 
ordered us to lay in provisions for two months. 

6th October. — While we gave ourselves to meditating on 


all these things, and particularly on the problem of filling 
stores without anything to put into them, rumours of 
peace, only credited because we wished them to be true, 
filled our hearts with joy, and inspired us with the hope 
that it would not now be necessary to attempt impossi- 
bilities. This rumour gained credence from the harmony 
which reigned between the Cossacks and the advance- 
guard of the King of Naples. This was taken to indicate 
that there was a prospect of an understanding between 
the two Emperors. Moreover, it was known that General 
Lauriston had been sent to the headquarters of Prince 
Kutusoff, and that as a result of their interview a courier 
had been dispatched to St. Petersburg to decide the 
question of peace or war. 

Meanwhile Napoleon, instead of visiting the corps 
d'armée and so making himself acquainted with their 
critical position, and particularly with their dwindling 
strength, remained shut up in the Kremlin, doing nothing 
but review the troops of the garrison. By vigilant super- 
vision he obliged the colonels to maintain their regiments 
in the highest efficiency, hoping by their brilliant appear- 
ance to overawe the Russians and force them to submit 
to his conditions. Much to our surprise the weather 
continued magnificent, and contributed greatly to the 
impressiveness of these reviews. This extraordinary 
weather struck the Muscovites with astonishment, 
accustomed as they were to the advent of snow in the 
month of October. The people who were superstitious 
by nature, and had long looked forward to winter as 
their avenger, began to think themselves abandoned by 
Providence, and to regard such a marvel as the result of 
Divine interposition on behalf of Napoleon. But this 
apparent favour was the actual cause of our destruction, 



The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

by blinding him to such an extent that he began to 
believe that the climate of Moscow resembled that of 
Paris. 1 In his insane vanity, he hoped to control the 
seasons as he governed men, and by a gross abuse of his 
lucky star he imagined that u the sun of Austerlitz " would 
shine upon him to the pole, or that, like another Joshua, 
he could arrest the luminary in its course to guide him on 
his wanderings. 

While negotiations were in progress, everything was 
being got ready for a renewal of the war, but nothing was 
done to prepare for the rigours of winter. And yet the 
outlook was appalling ; the longer we remained in Moscow, 
the worse our situation became. In proportion as we 
exhausted the neighbouring villages, we were obliged to 
resort for supplies to places farther and farther away. 
The distances made our efforts as dangerous as they 
were exhausting; leaving at dawn, our foragers rarely 
returned before nightfall. Such exertions recurring day 
after day, wore out the men and exterminated the horses, 
and more especially the artillery teams. The strongest 
regiments had less than one hundred horses, and nothing 
was left to feed the soldiers but the flesh of these animals. 
In the midst of these torments the audacity of the Cossacks 
redoubled in proportion as our confidence diminished. 

Of this they gave a proof by attacking the village 
near Moscow where the dragoons of the Guard were 
cantoned. These, although attacked by superior 
numbers, defended themselves with great bravery, and 
the affair would have been glorious for them had not 
Major Marthod, after being wounded, fallen into the 

1 22nd, 23rd and 24th Bulletins: "The weather is superb, like that of 
France in October, perhaps a little warmer. Everything points to our going 
into winter quarters." 



hands of the Russians with fifty of his men. Some days 
after, the enemy also captured a convoy of artillery coming 
from Viazma, commanded by two majors. Napoleon 
j\ considered these officers to blame, and ordered a com- 
II mission of inquiry into their conduct. One of them blew 
] out his brains, more, doubtless, from despair at having 
lost his guns than from consciousness of guilt. To avert 
similar losses Broussier's division, with the light horse, 
commanded by Count Ornano, was ordered to quarter 
itself in the Château of Galitzin between Mojaisk and 
Moscow. These troops cleared the surrounding country 
of Cossacks, who always shunned encountering them, but 
the slightest gap left by our troops was at once filled by 
these ^hordes of Tartars, who availed themselves of every 
advantage offered by the ground to attempt feats of the 
greatest daring. 

They renewed their operations by attacking another 
convoy of artillery, which had come from Italy under 
Major Vives. With regard to this affair, the escort having 
taken to flight, abandoned the whole of their guns to the 
Cossacks, who promptly carried them off; but Count 
Ornano, having been informed of the disaster, pursued the 
enemy, and overtook them in the midst of a wood. At 
the sight of our cavalry the Cossacks fled, abandoning 
without resistance all the fruits of their victory. Major 
Vives would have been tried by court-martial, if our 
retreat and subsequent disasters had not forced Napoleon 
to relax his severity. 

While the fourteenth division secured the road to 
Viazma, the thirteenth was upon that of Tver. The 
latter was resting quietly in its cantonments, when in- 
formation was received that Count Soltikoff, a favourite 
of the Emperor Alexander, and seigneur of the village of 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Morfino, near Dimitrow, had armed all his peasants and 
assembled in his château several other seigneurs with 
the object of planning a general uprising. To nip this 
dangerous scheme in the bud a brigade of the thirteenth 
division was ordered to proceed to the Château of Marfino. 
The general in command made the most careful investiga- 
tion as to the assembly having taken place, but utterly 
without result. Obliged, however, to carry out his orders, 
he committed to the flames a palace justly renowned as 
one of the finest in Russia. This allegation of conspiracy 
gave rise to the belief that in ordering this act of vandalism 
Napoleon had been prompted by personal spite against 
Count SoltikofT for having clung with unalterable fidelity 
to his sovereign. 

\$tk October. — The attacks to which the corps d'armée 
were in turn subjected demonstrated the impossibility of 
our remaining longer in our present position. Everything 
pointed to our speedy departure, and this became a 
certainty in view of the removal of the hospitals towards 
Minsk and Wilna, and the fact that the majority of the 
wounded generals were being conveyed thither, escorted 
by about one thousand infantry. We also learnt that the 
cavalry of the Italian Guard were leaving their canton- 
ments in the vicinity of Dimitrow, to return to Moscow, 
thence to occupy the position of Charapovo, a small 
village situated upon the road to Borovsk, about six 
leagues from the capital. At the same time the Viceroy 
recalled the thirteenth division, and advanced the four- 
teenth and General Ornano's cavalry, towards Fominskoe, 
where the whole of the fourth corps were to rendezvous. 
Informed of this movement, the Cossacks watched for 
the moment when the baggage of our light horse was 
weakly guarded, to attack the convoy in the neighbour- 



hood of Osighovo, but on the arrival of Broussier's division 
they abandoned part of their booty, and under cover of 
the woods, eluded pursuit. 

The return of the courier from St. Petersburg was 
being looked for with the greatest anxiety, when General 
Lauriston, left again to wait upon Kutusoff, and with such 
extreme haste that he was obliged to avail himself of the 
relays of horses reserved for the Emperor. In the con- 
viction that all these conferences would have a favourable 
result, our army relaxed its vigilance and lulled itself into 
a false security. The enemy profited by this blunder to 
attack the cavalry of the King of Naples at Winkovo, 
near Tarontina, on the 18th of October, and captured 
from General Sebastiani a park of twenty guns, which 
were carried off, along with several waggons filled with 
baggage. This attack, which was made when our cavalry 
were out foraging, would have been fatal to that arm, 
which was already in a deplorable condition, had not the 
King of Naples, who was at the time on foot, mounted 
his horse and galloped with his staff into the thick of the 
fray, which he directed with heroic courage, while our 
cavalry was getting into order of battle. The Cossacks 
were routed and abandoned the guns ; the Russian infantry 
advanced to their support, and the action became general, 
bath sides displaying great ferocity. Generals Bagawout 
and Muller were killed, and General Beningsen was 
wounded. On our side, more than two thousand men 
were hors de combat, and we had especially to deplore the 
death of Generals Fischer and Déry, the latter aide-de- 
camp to the King of Naples. 

The Emperor was at the Kremlin, indulging in his 
usual occupation of reviewing the troops, when he received 
this unexpected news. He was furious, and in the trans- 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

ports of his rage he charged the enemy with treason and 
infamy for having attacked the King of Naples in defiance 
of all the rules of war. 1 The parade was countermanded 
on the spot; all hope of peace vanished, and the order 
was given to evacuate Moscow that very evening. All 
the corps were directed to take the high road to Kaluga. 
It was hoped that we were about to advance into the 
Ukraine, to seek, under milder skies, countries less 
devastated and much more fertile. But the best informed 
alleged that our movement on Kaluga was but a feint to 
conceal from the enemy our intention to retreat upon 
Smolensk and Witepsk by a new route. 

1 There had never been any truce between the two armies except that the 
outposts of Milloradowitch had suspended hostilities for some days, and 
expressed to those of the King of Naples the desire they had for peace. 



The retreat begins amidst great difficulties — Blowing up of the Kremlin — 
Napoleon's vandalism — Arrival at Malo-Jaroslavetz — Russians bar the 
way to the south — Bloody action — The French victorious after suffering 
heavy losses — Horrible appearance of town — Cossack raids. 

AS it was very late when we started, we were obliged 
to halt at a miserable village only one league from 
Moscow. The cavalry of the Italian Guard, which was 
still at Charopovo, left that place on the following day 
(19th October) and rejoined us at Batoutinka, not far 
from the Château of Troitskoe. where Napoleon had 
established his headquarters. Almost the whole army 
was concentrated at this point, with the exception of the 
cavalry, which was in advance, and of the Young Guard, 
which had remained in Moscow to cover our retreat. 

On the morrow the cavalry of the Royal Guard was 
to have directed itself towards Charopovo, followed by 
the whole of the fourth corps. At the moment, how- 
ever, when it was about to start, it was recalled, and the 
Prince ordered these troops to continue their march along 
the same road which we had traversed on the previous 
evening. We crossed the Pakra near Gorki. This pretty 
village had ceased to exist, and the river, choked up with 
the débris of the burnt houses, rolled sluggishly along, a 
muddy and blackened stream. Higher up was the fine 
Château of Krasnoë, completely sacked ; but the elegance 
of the building was still conspicuous in contrast with the 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

wild hills upon which it stood. Here we halted, and an 
hour later we quitted the high road to seek on our right 
a track which would lead us to Fominskoe, where General 
Broussier and our cavalry had found themselves for four 
or five days in presence of the enemy. Our march by 
this unfrequented road was extremely laborious, but we 
were fortunate enough to find some villages which, 
although deserted, were less ransacked than those on the 
highway. We passed the night at Inatowo, where there 
was a château situated on an eminence which commanded 
the country by which we had arrived. 

Continuing our march, still with the intention of re- 
joining the Charopovo road, we arrived at a village called 
Bouikasovo. We had no proper maps, had no guides, 
and were unable even to pronounce the names of the 
villages which were marked on such maps as we pos- 
sessed. Having captured a peasant, we kept him with 
us for two days ; but he was so hopelessly stupid that 
we could not even get out of him the name of his village. 
However, this march was of great importance to the 
Emperor who, with the main body of the army, was to 
follow us. The Prince each day made me draw a plan of 
the itinerary for the information of the major-general. 

All obstacles having been surmounted, we at last re- 
joined the Kaluga road, and an hour later arrived at 
Fominskoe. Broussier's division was encamped in the 
environs of this village, and the cavalry, posted in 
advance, was drawn out by the Viceroy, who at once 
proceeded to reconnoitre the plateau occupied by the 
Cossacks. On seeing us, however, they retired and 
abandoned the ground upon which we had prepared 
to attack them. 

From the military point of view the position of Fomin- 


skoe would have been advantageous for the Russians had 
they resolved to defend it. Through the centre of the 
village, which was commanded by a hill, ran the river 
Nara, which at this point is confined by the narrowing of 
the valley, and forms a small lake, the shores of which are 
exceedingly marshy. In spite of this, the whole army had 
to pass through the defile, where there was only one bridge, 
which appeared quite insufficient. It was reserved for the 
vehicles, and another was constructed for the sole use of 
the infantry. 

One day was devoted to this work and to the passage 
of a portion of the troops (22nd October). In this interval 
the Poles under Prince Poniatowski marched upon Vereia, 
where the Hetman Platow was posted with his Cossacks. 
Presently Napoleon arrived with his usual escort. In a 
moment the village was crowded with men, horses and 
vehicles; but thanks to the skilful arrangements which 
had been made, the whole passed without confusion, which 
was not a little surprising, for the legions of Xerxes were 
not more encumbered with baggage than we were. 

The same day Captain Evrard, who had been sent on 
a mission to Charopovo, informed us that he had heard a 
terrific explosion in the direction of Moscow, and we after- 
wards learnt that it was caused by the blowing up of the 
Kremlin. The destruction of that famous citadel and of 
the splendid buildings which it contained was effected by 
the Young Imperial Guard commanded by the Duke of 
Treviso. That marshal, on quitting Moscow, received a 
formal order to raze to the ground all that the flames had 
spared. Thus ended this famous city, founded by the 
Tartars and destroyed by the French. Crowned with all 
the favours of Fortune, its fall presented a picture of the 
extreme vicissitudes of human affairs; and history will 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

record that the very man who professed to sacrifice us on 
the altar of progress, boasted in his bulletins that he had 
put back Russia a hundred years. 

Moscow was not retaken by the Russians. It was 
evacuated by the Young Guard as part of our plan of 
campaign. General Winzingerode, who commanded the 
army of observation during our occupation, having ad- 
vanced to a street in the neighbourhood of the Kremlin, 
with young Narishkin, his aide-de-camp and several horse- 
men, suddenly found himself face to face with a picket of 
the 5th Regiment of voltigeurs of the Young Guard, com- 
manded by Lieutenant Leleu de Maupertuis, who promptly 
seized the general's bridle and declared him his prisoner. 

Part of the army having crossed the Nara, the fourth 
corps followed at about five in the morning (23rd October) 
and took the road to Borovsk. The enemy did not show 
himself, no doubt in order to inform the commander-in- 
chief that we had outwitted his vigilance, by leaving him 
on the new road to Kaluga to follow the old through 

Informed of our march, KutusofT immediately aban- 
doned his entrenched camp at Lectaskova, but he left us 
in doubt as to whether he would debouch by Borovsk or 
by Malo-Jaroslavetz. Napoleon occupied the former town, 
situated on a hill, under which flows the Protva in a very 
deep bed. 

Prince Eugene, who had encamped half a league 
beyond Borovsk, in a small village to the right of the 
road, sent Delzons' division towards Malo-Jaroslavetz 
with instructions to occupy it before the Russians could 
seize it. The General, having found the town undefended, 
took peaceable possession with only two battalions, leaving 
the rest in the plain. The position was thus believed to 



be secure, when on the morrow (24th October) at day- 
break we heard a heavy cannonade on our front. The 
Viceroy, suspecting the cause, immediately mounted his 
horse, and with his staff went full gallop towards Malo- 
Jaroslavetz. As we approached, the thunder of the guns 
redoubled in intensity; the fire of the skirmishers was 
heard on all sides, and at last we saw distinctly the 
Russian columns, coming by the new road to Kaluga to 
take a position opposite that which we occupied. 

The base of the plateau of Malo-Jaroslavetz had been 
reached, when General Delzons hastened towards us and 
addressing the Prince, stated that the previous evening he 
had seized the position, which seemed to him perfectly 
safe from attack, when towards four in the morning, he 
had been assailed by a strong body of infantry ; the two 
battalions had been overpowered by greatly superior forces, 
and had been obliged to abandon Malo-Jaroslavetz. The 
Viceroy recognising the serious nature of this loss, at once 
resolved to repair it, and instructed the General to attack 
the position with his whole division. An obstinate en- 
gagement ensued ; fresh troops having arrived in support 
of the Russians, our troops for the moment gave way ; but 
General Delzons hastened into the thick of the fight to 
rally them. At the moment when he was stubbornly de- 
fending the approaches to the town the enemy's skirmishers 
delivered a volley and the General fell dead with a bullet 
through his forehead. The Prince was much affected by 
the loss of so distinguished and able an officer, but im- 
mediately appointed General Guilleminot to replace him 
That general, by his bravery and skill, rallied the division, 
which had been disheartened by the death of its leader. 
The fight was continuing with great fury in the streets of 
the town, when Broussier's division came up in support 
M 177 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

but fresh Russian columns, constantly arriving by the 
Lectaskova road, succeeded in overthrowing our troops, 
whom we saw, crushed by numbers and driven pell-mell 
down the hill, making for the bridge so as to escape across 
the Louja. They were promptly rallied, however, by 
Colonel Forestier, and resuming their accustomed cool- 
ness, returned to the position, which they captured with 
great intrepidity. But in view of the great number of 
wounded, and the difficulty of maintaining ourselves in 
Malo-Jaroslavetz, the Viceroy saw the absolute necessity 
of bringing more troops into action to counterbalance the 
reinforcements which the enemy was constantly receiving. 
Pino's division, which throughout the campaign had always 
been eager for action, hailed the order to advance with 
enthusiasm. Led by several officers of the staff, they 
rushed up the hill at the double, and with exulting shouts 
succeeded in establishing themselves in the positions from 
which the enemy was driven. This success was, however, 
dearly bought ; a great number of the gallant Italians 
having perished in their emulation of French valour. 
General Levié, who had only enjoyed his superior rank 
for eight days, was killed, and General Pino was badly 
wounded. In spite, however, of the pain of his wound, 
he was less regardful of that, than stricken with grief at 
the death of his brother, who was killed by his side. 

The chasseurs of the Royal Guard, commanded by 
Colonel Peraldi, had joined in this movement. But the 
fifteenth division having been repulsed, they advanced 
to support it at the moment when the enemy were 
making rapid progress ; and, marching towards the 
bridge, threatened to hurl the troops which had crossed 
it into the river. Seeing that there was not a moment 
to lose, they attacked the Russians, and recaptured the 

i 7 8 


position from which the Italian division had been driven. 
The fight was being sustained on both sides with extreme 
fury, when the Russians, having unmasked two large 
redoubts, fired several rounds of grape, which almost 
annihilated the chasseurs. Those that remained wavered 
for a moment, but Colonel Peraldi having reminded his 
troops of the dishonour which would cover them if they 
did not die at their posts, had the satisfaction of seeing 
those veterans supply themselves with cartridges (their 
own being exhausted) out of the boxes of their dead 
comrades; and with heads down they charged the 
Russians, who, dumbfounded at such audacity, supposed 
that they were being attacked by fresh troops, and fled 
from their first line, after having disarmed the redoubt. 
Their guns were all this time maintaining a terrific fire, 
the grape carrying destruction and death even into the 
ranks of the Royal Grenadiers and Light Infantry who 
were in reserve, and plunging into the groups formed by 
the Viceroy's staff. It was here that General Giffienga 
received a wound in the throat which compelled him to 
quit the field. 

The success of the day was now decided ; we were 
occupying the town and all the neighbouring heights, 
when the fifth division of the first corps arrived to take 
position on our left, and the third division of the same 
corps, which had also arrived after the action, occupied 
a wood on our right. Our batteries and infantry kept 
up their fire at close range on the enemy, whose retreat 
was covered by a cloud of skirmishers. The night and 
exhaustion at last stopped this bloody combat, but it 
was not till ten o'clock that the Viceroy and his staff 
could seek the repose so necessary after the terrible 
exertions of the day. We encamped below Malo- 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Jaroslavetz, between the town and the river Louja. The 
troops bivouacked along the whole extent of the positions 
they had so gloriously taken. 

We recognised next day that the obstinacy with 
which the Russians had defended Malo-Jaroslavetz was 
due to their determination to cover Kaluga, and to 
prevent our retreat through the southern provinces. We 
then regretted our delay at Fominskoe ; had we not lost 
a day, the entrenchments of the enemy would have been 
turned, and he could not possibly have arrived in time 
to defend the positions between Malo-Jaroslavetz and 
Kaluga. Those who were in the Emperor's secrets 
assert to this day that, in conducting his movement on 
Smolensk he intended first of all to destroy the arsenal 
at Tula, and then proceed by the road to Serpeisk and 
Elnia, through a country which had not been desolated. 

Towards four in the morning, the Viceroy mounted 
his horse and we went over the plateau which had been 
the scene of the battle. We saw the plain covered with 
Cossacks, whose field artillery opened fire on our troops, 
and on the left we observed three large redoubts. On 
the previous evening they had been armed with from 
fifteen to twenty guns ; one of them defended KutusofFs 
right flank, with the object, doubtless, of preventing us 
from turning his position. Towards ten the firing 
slackened, and at midday it entirely ceased. 

The interior of Malo-Jaroslavetz presented a horrible 
spectacle. The town had been entirely destroyed ; the 
course of the streets could only be traced by the 
innumerable corpses with which they were covered. 
Nothing was to be seen on all sides but fragments of 
limbs and human heads crushed under the overturned 
guns. The houses were a heap of ruins, and amidst 



their smouldering ashes could be seen half-consumed 
bodies. There were also numbers of the sick and 
wounded who, in quitting the field, had sought refuge 
in these houses ; the few who escaped the flames were a 
pitiable sight, with bodies blackened and hair burnt off; 
and their groans of agony were heart-rending. The 
most callous heart could not but be softened at such a 
horrid sight, and we turned away our faces to conceal 
our tears. We shuddered at the misery to which 
despotism was exposing us, and almost felt as though 
we were living in those barbarous ages when the wrath 
of the gods was sought to be averted by the offering 
of human victims on bloody altars. 

During the afternoon, Napoleon having arrived with 
a numerous suite, coolly rode over the battlefield, and 
heard without the least emotion the dreadful cries of 
the unhappy wounded, imploring succour. But even 
this man, accustomed as he had been for twenty years 
to the horrors of war, to which he was so insanely 
addicted, could not, on entering the town, conceal his 
astonishment at the ferocity of the action, and in spite 
of his indifference he was compelled to do justice to 
those who so well deserved it. He warmly praised the 
behaviour of the fourth corps, and turning to the 
Viceroy exclaimed, "The honour of this brilliant day 
belongs entirely to you." 1 

While we were engaged with the enemy at Malo- 
Jaroslavetz, more than six thousand Cossacks pounced 
upon the Emperor's headquarters at Ghorodnia, and 
captured six guns not far from that village. The Duke 

1 Having lately been at Mantua, I was there told by Sir Robert Wilson, 
who was present at Malo-Jaroslavetz, that Prince Eugene with twenty 
thousand men withstood the attacks of nine Russian divisions of ten thousand 
men each. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

of Istria x promptly pursued them at full gallop, with 
all the cavalry of the Guard, supported by the fourth 
division and the corps of General Latour-Maubourg, and 
the guns were retaken. The Cossacks, sabred and 
dispersed, effected their retreat and sought refuge on 
the other side of the Protva ; but in the course of their 
flight, one of their numerous detachments fell upon the 
train of the fourth corps, and would have captured it 
had not the cavalry of the Italian Guard rescued it in 
the same manner as the Imperial Guard had rescued 
the guns. 

1 Marshal Bessières. 




Lessons of Malo-Jaroslavetz — Depletion of French army — Its critical position 
— Compelled to abandon march to south — Retakes route to Smolensk — 
Fearful brutality and ferocity of French — Wholesale murders, rapes and 
incendiarism — French without food and shelter — Napoleon in advance, 
burns everything in his way — Awful consequences to following corps — 
Appalling aspect of the field of Borodino — Deplorable state of the 
Russian prisoners. 

THE action of Malo-Jaroslavetz convinced us of 
two sinister facts : first, that the Russians, far 
from being weakened, had been heavily reinforced, and 
were fighting us with a determination which made further 
victories over them hopeless. Two such victories as that, 
said the soldiers, and Napoleon would have no army left. 
Secondly, it was obvious that we must abandon the 
attempt to retire by Kaluga and Tula, and that we had 
no hope of an unmolested retreat, since the enemy 
having, as a result of this affair, hemmed us in, not 
only prevented our columns from proceeding by Serpeisk 
and Elnia, but also from reaching Viazma by Medouin 
and Joukhnov, thus reducing us to the disastrous alterna- 
tive of returning by the high road to Smolensk. Besides 
these only too well founded fears, we were also confronted 
with the certainty that the Russians would block our 
retreat with the army of Moldavia, while the corps of 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Wittgenstein would also advance to effect a junction 
with that of Admiral Tschikagow. 

After this memorable combat, those who could only 
form superficial judgments believed that we should 
advance upon Kaluga and Tula. Great surprise was 
occasioned, however, by the movements of the enemy's 
advance-guard, which, instead of proceeding in that 
direction, outflanked our right by marching on Medouin. 
It became evident from this that the Russians had seen 
through Napoleon's designs, and that to forestall the 
enemy we must make a forced march upon Viazma, so 
as to get there before him. Thenceforward it was no 
longer a question of Kaluga and the Ukraine, but solely 
to regain, with the utmost haste, the road to Mojaisk — 
in other words, the desert which we ourselves had created. 
As soon as our retreat was decided upon, the fourth 
corps effected its retrograde movement, leaving the 
first corps at Malo-Jaroslavetz with Chastel's cavalry. 
These troops were to form the rear-guard, marching a 
day's journey behind us. 

26th October. — We found upon our route convincing 
evidence of the paltry results achieved by the sanguinary 
action of Malo-Jaroslavetz. On all hands were to be 
seen ammunition waggons abandoned for want of horses 
to draw them, and the shattered fragments of carriages 
and tumbrils left on the ground for the same reason. 
Such serious losses at the very beginning of our retreat 
were a gloomy augury of the fate which awaited us. 
Those who carried with them the loot of Moscow, now 
began to tremble for their plunder. But there was, 
above all, a general feeling of dismay at the deplorable 
condition of our cavalry, especially when we heard the 
continual explosions caused by the blowing up of our 



ammunition waggons, the sound of which reverberated 
from afar like the roar of thunder. 

It was nightfall when we reached Ouvaroskoe (26th 
October). Surprised to see the village in flames, we 
found on inquiry that orders had been given to burn 
everything on our route. In this place there was a 
château, which although built of wood, was equal in 
aspect to the finest palaces of Italy. Its furniture 
corresponded with the appearance of the exterior : price- 
less pictures, valuable candelabras and a profusion of 
lustres of rock-crystal transformed these apartments, 
when lighted up, into a veritable fairyland. None of 
these beautiful things were carried off, but next day I 
was informed that our soldiers, finding that fire was 
too slow a method of destruction, had blown the château 
to pieces by means of ammunition waggons full of 
powder placed in the basement. 

The villages which, a few days before, had sheltered 
us were ablaze when we reached them again. Under 
their still smoking ashes were numerous corpses of 
soldiers and peasants, as well as of infants with their 
throats cut, and young girls murdered after having been 
ravished. We left on our right the town of Borovsk, 
which had similarly been burnt, to reascend the Protva, 
in the hope of finding a ford practicable for our artillery. 
One had been discovered just above the town, but at 
this point the river was so choked with abandoned 
ammunition waggons that we were obliged to seek 
another. We found, however, that the bridge of Borovsk 
was still standing, and that it was practicable for our 
baggage train. The Prince immediately ordered the 
thirteenth division, which formed our advance-guard, 
to cross this bridge, which gave us access to a much 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

better and shorter road. The great danger we had 
to fear was the passage of our ammunition waggons 
through the burning town. 

All our waggons, however, got through without 
accident, and in the evening, after having traversed 
several very difficult defiles, we arrived at the wretched 
village of Alfereva (27th October), where the generals 
could with difficulty find a barn in which to pass the 
night. Even the quarters of the Viceroy were so 
frightful that commiseration was felt for the peasants 
who had to live there. As a climax of misfortune, the 
absence of provisions redoubled our sufferings ; the food 
which had been brought from Moscow was nearly ex- 
hausted, and the man who was lucky enough to possess 
bread, crept off to eat it in secret. Our horses also suffered 
cruelly ; tainted straw, torn from the cottage roofs, being 
their only fodder. A great many of these poor animals 
succumbed to fatigue, obliging us to abandon our artillery 
teams, and each day the explosions of the ammunition 
waggons went on increasing to a frightful degree. 

2%th October, — On the following day we recrossed the 
Protva below Vereia. This town was still burning as 
we passed through it, and the devouring flames rising 
amidst dense clouds of smoke, quickly reduced it to 
ashes. The place was exceptionally unfortunate, as 
its distance from the main road had hitherto saved it ; 
and with the exception of a fight between the Russians 
and Poles, it had escaped the horrors of war. Its well- 
cultivated fields and gardens were stocked with all kinds 
of vegetables, which in an instant were cleared off by 
our famished soldiers. 

The third corps of the Young Guard, which had 
been left at Moscow, rejoined us by the direct road. 



This corps had brought with it the war chest, the 
commissariat and a large baggage train, and it now 
resumed its position as advance-guard. At Vereia 
General Winzingerode and his aide-de-camp, who had 
been made prisoners at Moscow, were taken before 
the Emperor, who received them with great truculence, 
telling the General that as a Wiirtemberger he would be 
sent before a court-martial, as a rebel subject of the Con- 
federation of the Rhine. Fortunately, however, for him 
he was recaptured in the vicinity of Minsk by Colonel 
Czernichew who, with a strong body of Cossacks, was on 
his way to inform Count Wittgenstein of Tschikagow's 
movement to effect a junction with him for the purpose 
of cutting off our retreat upon the banks of the Berezina. 

We slept at a poor village called, I believe, Mitiaeva, 
which was even worse than that in which we had passed the 
previous night. The majority of the officers had to bivouac ; 
a most trying situation, for the nights began to be cold, and 
the want of firewood rendered them almost insupportable. 
To procure fuel we went so far as to demolish the huts 
where the generals were sleeping, so that several of them 
on waking found themselves under the open sky. 

Napoleon, who preceded us by a day's march, had 
already got beyond Mojaisk, burning and destroying 
everything on his way. The soldiers of his suite imbibed 
such a passion for this devastation that they burnt even 
the places where we were to stop. This exposed us to 
very great sufferings, but our corps, in its turn, by 
burning the few houses that were left, deprived that of 
the Prince of Eckmiihl, which formed our rear-guard, of all 
shelter whatever against the bitter nights. Besides this 
hardship, the same corps had still to fight continually 
against an infuriated enemy, who, on learning of our 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

retreat, hastened from all sides to glut his vengeance. The 
guns which we heard each day at no great distance showed 
what tremendous efforts were required to keep him at bay. 

At length, an hour after passing through Ghorodok- 
Borisov (29th October) amidst clouds of smoke, we 
entered a plain, which appeared to have been devastated 
some considerable time previously. From time to time 
we encountered the bodies of men and horses. Several 
half-destroyed trenches, and a town in ruins, enabled me 
to recognise the environs of Mojaisk, which we had before 
passed through as victors. The Westphalians and the 
Poles encamped among these ruins, and as they departed 
they burnt such of the houses as had escaped the first 
conflagration; there were so few that the light from 
the flames was hardly visible. There was one curious 
circumstance which greatly struck us. The thick black 
smoke which issued from the débris contrasted strikingly 
with the whiteness of the belfry, which had recently been 
erected. It was the only building left entire, and the 
clock still continued to strike the hours though the town 
had ceased to exist ! 

The army did not pass through Mojaisk, but diverg- 
ing to the left, we arrived at the site of Krasnoë, where 
we had encamped the day after the battle of the Moskwa. 
I say advisedly the "site," because the village had 
disappeared, only the château having been saved for the 
use of Napoleon. We bivouacked around this château, 
and I shall remember to my dying day the delightful 
sensation of lying down in the hot ashes of the houses 
which had been burnt the previous evening. 

ysth October. — The farther we advanced the more 
depressing grew the landscape ; the fields trampled down 
by thousands of horses seemed as though they had never 



been tilled. The forests, thinned by the long sojourn of 
the troops, also bore witness to this frightful devastation ; 
but the most horrible sight of all was the multitude of 
corpses which, lying unburied for fifty-two days, scarcely 
preserved the form of humanity. Near Borodino my 
horror was at its height when I reached the battlefield and 
found the remains of the twenty thousand men who had 
been slaughtered, still lying in heaps, the frost having 
preserved them from entire dissolution. The plain was 
covered with them ; on all sides nothing was to be seen 
but carcases of horses and human bodies, half interred. 
There also were to be seen uniforms stained with blood, 
bones gnawed by famished dogs and birds of prey ; here 
a litter of broken weapons — drums, helmets and cuirasses ; 
there the broken staffs of regimental colours, the symbols 
with which they were covered, revealing how much the 
Russian eagle had suffered on that bloody day. 

Our soldiers in wandering over the theatre of their 
exploits, showed with pride the places where their 
regiments had fought ; and nearly every one was able to 
recall some of those deeds of valour which are so flattering 
to our national pride. On one side were noticed the 
remains of the hut which Kutusoff had occupied ; farther 
on upon the left was the famous redoubt, which dominated 
the plain and resembled a pyramid rising in the midst of 
a desert. Recalling its appearance when last I saw it, it 
now seemed like Vesuvius in repose. But observing on 
the summit a soldier, whose immovable figure stood out 
against the sky, " Ah," said I, " if ever a statue were 
erected to the Demon of War, here is the pedestal on 
which it should be set up." 

While we were traversing the battlefield we heard at a 
distance the most lamentable cries for succour. Several 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

of us followed the sounds, and to our infinite surprise 
found that they proceeded from a French soldier whose 
legs had been broken. " I was wounded," said he, " on 
the day of the great battle, and being in a lonely spot, 
remained without assistance. After dragging myself to 
the side of a brook, I have lived for nearly two months on 
grass, roots and a little bread which I recovered from the 
slain. In the night I lay in the insides of dead horses, 
and the flesh of these animals has served to dress my 
wounds as well as the best remedies. Seeing you to-day 
in the distance, I summoned all my strength, and suc- 
ceeded in getting near enough to the road to enable you 
to hear me." Astonished at such a miracle, we were 
expressing our surprise, when a general who had heard 
of the extraordinary occurrence, had the poor fellow 
removed to his carriage. 

Ah ! long indeed would be my narrative were I to 
relate all the calamities engendered by this atrocious war, 
but if I wished by one instance to give an idea of the rest, 
I might speak of the three thousand prisoners brought 
from Moscow. During the march they were herded 
together like cattle; on no pretext were they allowed 
to leave the narrow enclosure where they were confined. 
Without fire, and dying of cold, they had to sleep on the 
ice, and maddened by hunger they fought like famished 
wolves for the horse-flesh which was thrown to them, and 
which they ate raw for want of time and means to cook it. 
It is asserted, but I dare not believe the story, that when 
this food failed, they devoured the flesh of their comrades 
who had died of want. 

Let me turn from this awful picture, and resume the 
thread of my story, of the sufferings, not less cruel, which 
my companions and myself were soon to endure. 



Difficult passage of the Kologha — Napoleon blames the Prince of Eckmuhl 
— Terrible bivouac — Absence of firewood — Troops reduced to eating 
horse-flesh, and horses to eating straw — Attack on baggage by Cossacks, 
and panic — General mutual robbery and swindling in French army. 

WE repassed the Kologha with as much precipitation 
as that with which we had crossed it when 
spurred on by victory. The descent which led to the 
river was so steep, and the frozen ground so slippery that 
men and horses fell pell-mell on one another. Lucky 
would it have been for us if the many similar passages 
still to be negotiated had not been more dangerous ! We 
once again saw the Abbey of Kolotskoi ; despoiled of its 
splendour by the war, and having nothing around it now 
but ruined houses. It more resembled an hospital than a 
monastery, for it was the only building that we had seen 
since leaving Moscow that had not been destroyed, and it 
was filled with sick and wounded. 

The fourth corps, still marching in advance, stopped 
at a wretched hamlet situated half a league to the right of 
the road between the abbey and Prokofevo. Of all the 
halting-places we had had up to then, this was the most 
insupportable. It had nothing but the most miserable 
sheds, the straw roofs of which had been torn down as food 
for the horses ; in spite of which, it was here that the Prince 
and his suite had to find a resting-place. 

31st October. — We left early in the morning, and 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

arrived on the heights of Prokofevo, where we heard the 
sound of firing so close to us that the Viceroy, fearing that 
the Prince of Eckmiihl might have been overwhelmed, 
put his troops in order of battle so as to be ready to give 
him support. For some days the Emperor had been 
complaining of the dilatoriness of the first corps, and 
censuring the system of retreat by échelons which the 
Prince of Eckmiihl had adopted, and which had enabled the 
advance-guard of Milloradowitch to overtake us. It was 
also alleged against the Prince that he should have passed 
with more rapidity through the country denuded of 
supplies. In fairness to him, however, I must remark that 
a too hasty retreat would have redoubled the audacity of 
the enemy, who was very strong in light cavalry, and 
could therefore have attacked us at any moment, and cut 
the rear-guard to pieces if it had refused to engage. 
Moreover, this great leader had sufficiently proved in 
more fortunate circumstances that absolute reliance could 
be placed in his ability ; and he acted on this occasion in 
accordance with his maxim, " The more precipitate a 
retreat, the more is it fatal," because the discouragement 
it creates is even more disastrous than the physical 
deterioration it involves. 

The Viceroy had made his dispositions on the heights 
of Prokofevo in order to be ready to support the Prince 
of Eckmiihl, but having satisfied himself that the Marshal 
was in no immediate danger, he continued towards Ghiat, 
giving stringent orders to the troops to march in the 
greatest order, and to halt whenever the first corps 
might have need of their assistance. It would be im- 
possible too highly to praise the military virtues of Prince 
Eugene in these circumstances, for he was not only 
always the last of his column, but bivouacked a league 



short of Ghiat to be ready promptly to repulse any 
attacks of the enemy. 

The night passed in bivouac was the most trying we 
had yet had to endure. We were on rising ground, near 
the spot v/here the village of Ivachkoua once stood, not 
one house of which now existed ; it having long since 
been burnt. As the climax of disaster, the wind blew 
with great violence, and there being absolutely no possi- 
bility of procuring firewood, we were deprived of the 
only means of softening the rigours of the Russian 

Although our sufferings were extreme, we could not 
but be sensible of those experienced by the enemy. On 
approaching Ghiat we were seized with searchings of 
heart in finding that this town had been simply wiped 
out, and had it not been for the débris of a few stone- 
built houses which remained here and there, one would 
have believed oneself to be upon the site of a burnt 
forest. Never have cruelty and barbarity been guilty 
of greater atrocities. Ghiat being built mainly of wood, 
disappeared in a single day ; a deplorable loss in view 
of its industries and prosperity. It was reckoned to be 
one of the most flourishing commercial towns in Russia, 
with manufactures of leather, cloth, tar and rope for the 
English marine. 

The weather, although extremely cold at night, was 
superb during the day, so that our troops, although very 
exhausted by the privations they had endured, kept up 
their spirits, well knowing that to fall into despondency 
would be the beginning of their ruin. For several days 
they had had nothing to eat but horseflesh, and by this 
time provisions had become so scarce that even the 
generals had to come down to the same diet. In these 
N 193 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

circumstances the death of a horse was looked upon as 
a stroke of luck, for without this resource the soldiers 
would have experienced the horrors of famine. 

1st November. — The Cossacks, of whose appearance 
we were always apprehensive, were not long in justifying 
our fears. But as so far we had not seen them, we 
marched with our usual confidence. The baggage train 
was so enormous that it was divided into several convoys, 
very carelessly escorted, and straggling along with wide 
gaps between them. Near the ruined village of Czarevo- 
Saimiche there was a road about five hundred paces long 
which previously formed part of the highway. Our 
artillery had so cut it up, however, that it was no longer 
practicable ; and to continue our march we were forced 
to pass through marshy fields, intersected by a broad 
stream. Those who went first crossed it easily on the 
ice, which, however, soon gave way, and the rest had 
either to go through the stream or wait until hastily 
constructed bridges could be got ready. While the 
head of the column was thus brought to a stand, fresh 
vehicles were continually arriving, so that artillery 
waggons and vivandiers' carts were all blocking up the 
road, while the drivers profited as usual by the delay 
to light fires, at which they attempted to restore the 
circulation to their freezing limbs. We were in this 
state of supposed security when suddenly the Cossacks, 
uttering frightful yells, rushed out of a wood on our 
left and fell upon these poor wretches. At this, it was 
a case of sauve qui pent. There was a general panic; 
some sought refuge in the woods; others scrambled on 
to their horses, and spurring them with violence, dispersed 
over the plain, regardless of where they were going. 
The latter, however, were the worst off, as the stream 



and the marsh and other difficulties of the ground soon 
stopped their career and made them an easy prey to the 
enemy. The luckiest were those who got under the 
vehicles, and waited for their rescue, which promptly 
arrived; for as soon as the Cossacks saw infantry 
appearing they made off, having only succeeded in 
wounding some stragglers and looting a few waggons. 

After this, the escorts began to take advantage of the 
disorder created by these Cossack raids to appropriate 
everything entrusted to their care. Robbery and swin- 
dling thus spread throughout the army, and grew to such 
proportions that there was no more safety for one's 
property amongst our men than there would have been 
had it fallen into the hands of the enemy. Whoever 
had charge of anything belonging to another, took 
advantage of any alarm to steal it ; and many, encouraged 
by so easy a method, often created the desired occasion 
by themselves shouting " hurrah, hurrah ! " 

The Royal Guard had just passed through the defile 
of Czarevo-Saimiche when the train was attacked ; it was 
immediately ordered to halt, and we then saw Cossacks 
at about two hundred paces to our left, who had evidently 
come to observe our movements. It was even said that 
several of them had crossed the road between the gaps 
left in our straggling column. This swagger, which had 
produced such an effect upon our camp-followers, had none 
whatever when directed against the troops. The Royal 
Guard, although they saw the Tartars hovering on their 
flanks, did not trouble themselves about them, and halted 
near a wood close to Velitschevo; the other divisions 
encamped around the Viceroy, who had always remained 
in the rear, since the Russians manifested the intention 
to impede our retreat. 

. 195 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

2nd November. — Next day at three hours before dawn, 
we abandoned this position. Our night march was 
terrifying; the darkness was impenetrable, and each of 
us fearing to stumble against his neighbour, went along 
slowly feeling his way, and plunged in the most harassing 
despondency. In spite of all our precautions several 
fell into the ditches which lined the road ; others rolled 
down the ravines with which it was intersected. We 
awaited daylight with extreme impatience, hoping that 
its welcome appearance would facilitate our march, and 
enable us to guard against the ambuscades of an enemy 
who, by his intimate knowledge of the ground, had such 
an immense advantage in this campaign. 

We knew we should soon be attacked. Those who 
were acquainted with the country looked with anxiety to 
the position of Viazma, because that town was situated at 
the junction of the roads from Medouin and Joukhnow, 
which a part of the Russian army had followed after the 
action at Malo-Jaroslavetz, and which was much shorter 
than the route taken by us. Moreover, the Cossacks seen 
the previous evening were regarded as the advance-guard 
of the numerous cavalry commanded by Platow, and of 
the two divisions of General Milloradowitch, which were 
debouching near Viazma. 

Our pioneers and the escort of the Viceroy were only 

a mile from that town, and still there were no signs of the 

enemy. The Prince found that the distance between the 

two extremities of his column threatened to compromise 

the safety of his army, and he therefore ordered the 

troops in front to halt. During this interval Lieut.-Col. 

Labedoyère arrived from Viazma, and on his describing 

the dangers he had run, we had no doubt that next day 

there would be fighting. 



The Viceroy halted at Federovskoe, although he was 
expected at Viazma. His divisions encamped around 
him ; the Poles were on his right, facing the enemy ; a 
little farther forward were the divisions of the first corps, 
which, although forming the rear, were so hard pressed 
that they were almost in contact with us, and it was to 
remedy this that the Prince suspended his march. 



Action of Viazma — The French opposed by enormous odds, break through the 
Russians — A night march — Difficult passage of the Osma — Attacks by 

yd November. — The day following we were in motion 
about six o'clock, and were nearing Viazma ; already our 
leading troops had entered the town, when the Cossacks 
showed their presence by attacking some vehicles posted 
around a small church near by. The arrival of our troops 
soon dispersed them, but when these same troops resumed 
their march, the first brigade under General Nagle, which 
formed our rear-guard, was attacked on its left flank about 
a league and a half from Viazma. Several squadrons of 
Russian cavalry threw themselves into the short space 
which separated the fourth corps from the first. 

The Viceroy seeing the danger of his position, halted 
his divisions and recalled his artillery, so that well-directed 
batteries might control the enemy, whose manifest inten- 
tion was to cut off our retreat by possessing himself of 

While the manoeuvres were in progress for defeating 
the Russian plans, we saw with regret that the first 
corps, no doubt worn out by their unparalleled sufferings 
and constant fighting, had lost that fine appearance which 
used to excite our admiration. The soldiers observed but 
little discipline. Most of them had been wounded in the 



different actions, or were sick from bad diet and extreme 
fatigue, and these swelled the ranks of the stragglers. 

At first our corps not only sustained single-handed the 
attack of a large body of cavalry, but also the repeated 
efforts of a division of Russian infantry more than twelve 
thousand strong. During this time the first corps took 
position to the left of the road between Viazma and the 
point of attack, replacing the troops of the fourth corps, 
which had been engaged since the action commenced. 

The fourteenth division, which was in advance of the 
thirteenth, remained with the Royal Guard near Viazma, 
where both were held in reserve. This order of battle 
having been established, the enemy's infantry advanced, 
and the action began with much 'spirit, but with great 
superiority of artillery on the Russian side, for the 
wretched state of our horses prevented us from working 
our guns with the same rapidity. 

In spite of their inferiority, our troops held their posi- 
tions during the whole time required for the passage of 
our baggage train. While they were traversing the town 
of Viazma in the most perfect order, part of the enemy's 
cavalry attempted to envelop our two wings. This 
manœuvre of the Russians created consternation amongst 
those whom exhaustion and starvation had forced out of 
the ranks to march as best they could ; there were many 
of these, especially among the cavalry, who were nearly all 
dismounted. These scattered stragglers had become 
useless and were dangerous in present circumstances, for 
they not only impeded the manœuvres, but created alarm 
and disorder by precipitately bolting whenever the enemy 
attacked. This increased the difficulty of our situation, 
as the audacity of the Cossacks was redoubled by seeing 
this stampede of what they believed to be armed troops. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Fortunately the large redoubt upon the left of our road, 
and especially the strong position of the Duke of 
Elchingen, checked the efforts of the Russians, who had 
got us into a very critical situation. It was close on four 
in the afternoon when our corps passed through Viazma. 
In traversing the forest, which extends below the plateau 
on which that town is situated, we met a convoy of the 
sick which had left Moscow before us. These unfortunates 
had for several days been deprived of all assistance, and 
were bivouacking in the forest which served them both for 
hospital and grave, for the difficulty of getting the horses 
to move forward had compelled the drivers to abandon 
them all. We encamped close by, and at nightfall made 
a huge fire upon the side of a hill covered with brushwood. 
From this hill we saw the distant sky all ablaze ; it was 
the houses in Viazma which had escaped the first con- 
flagration and which had been given to the flames on our 
retiring. The third corps, which still maintained its 
position to cover the retreat, although separated from the 
Russians by a stream and steep ravines, appeared to be 
frequently attacked. In the silence of the night we were 
often awakened by^gun fire, the din of which, reverberating 
through the dense forests, was grand and terrible ; it 
rolled along the valley, repeated by a hundred echoes, and 
died away in low growls among the distant hills. 

4th November. — At about one in the morning the Vice- 
roy deemed it prudent to profit by the darkness to effect 
his retreat, and so obtain some hours start of the Russians, 
whom we could no longer fight, as hunger prevented us 
from remaining in the wasted country. We groped our 
way along the high road, which was entirely covered with 
baggage and artillery ; both men and horses, utterly worn 
out, could hardly drag themselves along, and when any of 



the latter fell, the soldiers shared it between them, and 
grilled the flesh on red-hot cinders. Many, suffering far 
more from the extreme cold than from hunger, abandoned 
their accoutrements, and lay down beside a large fire they 
had lighted, but when the time came for departing, these 
poor wretches had not the strength to get up, and pre- 
ferred to fall into the hands of the enemy rather than to 
continue the march. 

It was broad daylight when we arrived before the 
village of Polianovo, through which runs the little river 
Osma. The bridge was very narrow and extremely bad, 
while the crowd that had to cross it was immense, and as 
there was a desperate struggle to get over, the Viceroy 
directed the officers of the staff to interpose their authority 
to maintain order during this difficult passage ; and he 
himself ,was not above attending to all the measures 
needed to facilitate the progress of the convoys of artillery 
in the midst of the crowd of equipages which were trying 
to enter the defile. The Emperor, who was a day's march 
ahead of us, having heard that we were attacked, halted 
between Jalkow Postaja-Dvor and Doroghoboui, but when 
he learnt that we had forced the passage he resumed his 
progress towards the latter town. 

Below the hamlet of Semlevo there is another branch 
of the river Osma, much larger than the first, but it did 
not serve to check the advance of the army, which crossed 
by a wide and well-constructed bridge, to pass a position 
which the enemy could have utilised with great advantage 
if he had been able to take possession of it. 

Towards the close of the day, the Prince had taken up 
his quarters in a small chapel situated on this side of a 
large, marshy stream. Scarcely had this been done when 
the retinue was attacked by Cossacks and hastily fled, 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

some with the loss of their horses and clothes, while others 
were badly wounded by sabre cuts and lance thrusts. 

It was time to think of escaping, and as the retinue of 
the Viceroy evacuated their quarters the enemy's cavalry 
advanced. This affair showed very forcibly the necessity 
for assuring the passage of rivers during a retreat. This 
one, although comparatively small, was barely fordable, 
and had no bridge. To get across it, men, horses and 
vehicles plunged into the water ; a most trying situation, 
as the Russians, profiting by our difficulties, commenced 
to harass the end of our column, and spread consterna- 
tion among the immense throng who found themselves 
confronted by a broad and deep stream, half frozen and 
bordered by marshes, with the bullets of the enemy 
whizzing about their ears. In spite of this, however, the 
passage was unattended by any serious loss, and as night 
was approaching, and the Cossacks feared to compromise 
themselves, they desisted from their attacks. We lost a 
few vehicles, which had to be left in the middle of the 

This obstacle having been surmounted, we entered a 
forest. At its extremity, towards the left, was a large 
château built of wood, which had long since been sacked, 
near the village of Rombki, where we established ourselves. 
We had no meat but horseflesh, but there still remained a 
little bread which had been brought from Moscow in one 
of the waggons belonging to the staff. To economise our 
resources we made soup, and each officer had his fixed 
quantity. As to the horses, they had to be satisfied with 
the straw which, during our advance to Moscow, had 
served them as litter. 

$th November. — We started very early in the morning, 

and without encountering the enemy arrived at a large 



village, a few houses in which remained standing. One 
was built of stone, and was of some size, so that we called 
the place the Maison en Pierre. Seldom knowing the 
names of the villages through which we passed, it was our 
custom to call them by such names as their different 
characteristics suggested, either from their peculiarity of 
construction or the misery associated with them. We 
never, however, gave them a name suggesting our hunger, 
as that calamity was common to all. 



All hopes centred in Smolensk — The snow arrives — Its frightful consequences 
— The army becomes totally demoralised — Arrival at Doroghoboui — 
Found to have been burnt down by Napoleon — The results of this 
savagery — Dreadful plight of the stragglers. 

SO far, we had supported our privations with calmness 
and resignation, in the pleasing delusion that they 
would soon come to an end. In leaving Moscow, we had 
looked upon Smolensk as the termination of our retreat, 
where we should unite with the corps left upon the 
Dnieper and the Dwina, making those rivers our line of 
defence, and going into winter quarters in Lithuania. It 
was said, also, that Smolensk was well supplied with pro- 
visions, and that there would be found the ninth corps, 
numbering about twenty-five thousand fresh troops, to 
relieve us of further duty. That town was therefore the 
goal of our fondest hopes ; we burnt with impatience to 
reach it, in the full persuasion that once within its walls 
our sufferings would cease. 

6th November. — We were marching with all possible 
urgency on Smolensk, and had nearly reached Dorogho- 
boui, which was only some twenty leagues distant from 
the former city. The thought that we should be there in 
three days filled every heart with joy, when suddenly the 
sky, which up to then had been so brilliant, became 
darkened with a cold and gloomy mist. The sun, hidden 
behind dense clouds, vanished from our sight, and snow, 
falling in large flakes, in an instant obscured the day and 



confounded earth and sky. The wind, blowing with fury, 
filled the forests with its frightful whistling and uprooted 
the black fir trees covered with icicles, which fell to the 
ground with a crash ; and almost as if by magic the whole 
country became one universal white and savage waste. 

In the midst of this gloomy horror, the soldiers, over- 
whelmed by snow and wind, which came down upon them 
in a freezing mist, could no longer distinguish the road 
from the ditches with which it was lined, and often fell 
into the latter, and there found a grave. The rest, making 
frantic efforts to hasten forward, could hardly drag them- 
selves along; badly shod, insufficiently clothed, without 
food or drink, groaning with pain and shivering with cold, 
they showed absolute indifference to those who fell ex- 
| hausted and expired around them, and who, stretched out 
lalong the roads, were only to be distinguished by the heaps 
of snow which covered their corpses, and which formed 
along the route little mounds such as are seen in cemeteries. 
Finally, great clouds of ravens, abandoning the plain to 
seek refuge in the forests, came wheeling over our heads, 
uttering dreadful and sinister cries, while packs of savage 
dogs coming from Moscow, which had been feeding on the 
dead, came howling around us as if greedy to hasten the 
moment when we also should furnish them with a meal. 

From that moment the army utterly lost its morale 
and its military organisation. Soldiers no longer obeyed 
their officers; officers paid no regard to their generals; 
shattered regiments marched as best they could. Search- 
ing for food, they dispersed over the plain, burning and 
sacking everything in their way. These scattered detach- 
ments were soon assailed by the remainder of the popula- 
tion, armed to avenge the horrors of which they had been 
the victims ; and the Cossacks, coming to the aid of the 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

peasants, captured the miserable stragglers who had 
escaped the carnage. 

Such was the condition of the army when we arrived 
at Doroghoboui. This town, although a small one, would, 
in our distressed condition, have been a haven of refuge, 
had not Napoleon's rage blinded him to such an extent 
that he entirely forgot that his soldiers would be the chief 
sufferers from the devastation which he himself caused. 
Doroghoboui had been burnt down, its stores pillaged, 
and the brandy, of which there was abundance, was running 
down the gutters, while the rest of the army was perishing 
for want of it. The few houses that remained were 
occupied exclusively by a small number of generals and 
officers. The armed troops which were still left to face 
the enemy were exposed to all the rigours of the season, 
while those separated from their corps found themselves 
everywhere repulsed, being driven away even from the 
very midst of the bivouacs. One can imagine the situation 
of these unhappy creatures ; tormented with hunger, they 
rushed on every horse as soon as it fell, and like famished 
wolves fought for the fragments. Worn out for want of 
sleep and with long marches, they saw nothing around 
them but snow, and not a single place where they could 
find rest. They wandered about, palsied with the cold, 
searching for wood to make a fire, but the snow had 
covered everything, and even when they found any their 
labour was in vain, for what with the wind and the wet it 
was impossible to set it alight. The soldiers herded close 
together like cattle, huddled up under the shelter of birch 
trees or firs, or under the waggons. Some tore down 
trees, and others burnt the houses of the officers, and 
could be seen like spectres lying motionless beside those 

huge bonfires throughout the night. 




Napoleon's plans for renewing war in the spring — They are destroyed by the 
loss of Polotsk and Witepsk — Description of operations on the Dwina — 
Gouvion Saint-Cyr outnumbered — Napoleon's fatal blunder — The climate 
not the real cause of the debacle, but Napoleon's own folly in persisting 
in going to Moscow. 

WHEN Napoleon evacuated Moscow, he left it with 
the intention of combining all his troops behind 
Witepsk and Smolensk, and so making the Dnieper and 
the Dwina a line of concentration, from which he would 
issue in the following spring to attack simultaneously 
Kiow and St. Petersburg. The days of the 6th and 7th 
November having, however, destroyed his army, he made 
this a pretext for abandoning this plan. But the real and 
only motive which prompted him to do so was the news 
received at Smolensk that Wittgenstein had stormed 
Polotsk, and that Witepsk had also been taken with its 
garrison ! These two events involved such sweeping 
changes in the projects of the Emperor that I think it as 
well here to describe in some detail the operations which 
had been in progress upon the Dwina during our retreat. 

The very day on which we issued from Moscow, all 
the Russian armies which Napoleon had left in his rear 
put themselves in motion. That under the command of 
Count Wittgenstein, besides its vicinity to the Berezina, 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

was the more to be feared seeing that it had just been 
reinforced by seventeen thousand recruits and a division 
of veterans from Finland. Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr, 
entrusted with the duty of holding it, had long been with- 
out reinforcements, and saw his army dwindling away, 
not only owing to continual fighting, but also to their 
prolonged stay in a wretched country which had been the 
theatre of the most bloody operations for four months. 

Wittgenstein, emboldened by such advantages, at last 
resolved to take the offensive at a moment when our 
weakness compelled us to abandon it. On the 15th 
October, at six in the morning, he debouched before 
Polotsk with four columns, and profiting by his numerical 
superiority, advanced to turn the position held by Marshal 
Gouvion Saint-Cyr upon the left bank of the Polota. His 
first attack was directed against an advantageously placed 
battery, which we had to defend at all costs in order not 
to expose the weak point of our entrenched camp to the 
enemy — that is to say, the front of the town of Polotsk, 
the defences of which were too imperfect to cover our 
extreme left, but which nevertheless were defended by 
General Maison with great firmness and bravery. 

While the Russians were vigorously pressing General 
Maison, they brought up another of their columns to attack 
Legrand's division, chiefly directing their efforts against a 
redoubt upon the left of the Polota, which, owing to the 
enemy's manoeuvres, had become the centre of this 
division. The attack failed, and their courage gave way 
under the fire of our guns. 

During the whole of this day Wittgenstein did not 
dare to advance to the right bank of the Polota, where we 
were strongly entrenched ; but towards four o'clock, having 
doubtless concentrated all his forces, he debouched en 



masse by the Riga and Sebei roads. His troops, sup- 
ported by a column from Nevel, the road from which 
joins the other two near Polotsk, attacked the left flank of 
the town with so much rashness, that the Swiss and 
Croats of Merle's division, who opposed them, slaughtered 
large numbers, and closed the day with the retention of 
the position they had been charged to defend. 

Count Gouvion Saint-Cyr gloriously withstood the 
assault of greatly superior numbers, confident that so long 
as it was a mere question of courage he had nothing to 
fear. But he was not without anxiety as to being able to 
defeat the enemy's manœuvres, against which in an open 
plain the greatest valour could not contend. In order, 
therefore, to assure the safety of his rear, he had sent 
General Corbineau to the banks of the Ouchatsch during 
the night to watch the movements of the corps of General 
Stengel, whose intention was to turn the Marshal's posi- 
tion by the left bank of the Dvvina, while continuing the 
battle on the opposite side of the river. General 
Corbineau, as the result of his first reconnaissances, 
informed Saint-Cyr that on the banks of the Ouchatsch 
there were only weak bodies of the enemy ; but towards 
ten in the morning he reported in all haste that he saw in 
front of him five thousand infantry and twelve squadrons 
of cavalry. He was at once reinforced with a regiment 
from each division, and the 7th Cuirassiers under General 

The Marshal recognised that his position was becoming 
critical, and that he had no alternative but to repass the 
Dwina ; but wishing to conceal his plan of retreat from 
the Russians, he announced that it would only begin 
towards the close of the day, and that it must be made in 
absolute silence, so as to screen a movement which might 
O 209 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

have proved fatal had the enemy opposed it. Unfortun- 
ately, at nightfall, some reckless soldiers set fire to the 
barracks of General Legrand, and in a moment the fire 
extended to the whole line. Wittgenstein, who had only 
waited for our retreat to recommence his attacks, at once 
grasped the fact that we were about to recross the Dwina, 
and opened fire with his artillery on Polotsk, hoping to 
set it on fire, and thus prevent our ammunition waggons 
from getting through the town. The troops which were 
inside, protected by a double palisade, fought bravely and 
kept up a sustained fire, entrenching themselves behind 
baulks of timber and in the houses, which they had loop- 
holed. The bombardment was terrific and the fire of the 
batteries became general. The flames which rose on all 
sides lit up this night combat, and illuminated the country 
for miles round, so that the fight went on as if in broad day. 
The ferocity of the two sides was extreme, and although 
greatly outnumbered, our rear-guard defended the town 
until all the baggage train and troops had cleared the 

Polotsk having been evacuated at about three in the 
morning, the Russian General Cazanova took possession 
of it, and only found some wounded, brought in from the 
battlefield. But our enforced retreat was glorious, seeing 
that in so critical a position, which might have been 
disastrous, the enemy only captured one gun at a loss 
triple that of ours. That same day, the Russian general 
staff, having given a grand dinner in the monastery of the 
Jesuits, Wittgenstein rose towards the end of the banquet, 
and by a spontaneous impulse, which reflected honour on 
both victor and vanquished, proposed the health of the 
brave Gouvion Saint-Cyr. 

The Marshal, seeing that he had not an instant to 


lose in opposing the troops advancing by Ouchatsch, 
which had been held in check by General Amey in the 
defiles of Sedlitchtche, sent him a reinforcement of seven 
hundred Bavarians, and gave the command of all these 
troops to General de Wrede, who promptly marched 
against Stengel. On coming up with him, he attacked 
and drove him to the other side of the Bononiia, taking 
from fifteen to eighteen thousand prisoners ; among them 
two colonels and several officers of various grades. 

The Marshal having been wounded in the foot was 
obliged to transfer the chief command to General Legrand, 
until the Duke of Reggio could arrive to assume it. 

Such were the events which had occurred during the 
retreat of the Grand Army upon Smolensk ; events which 
were honourable to our arms, but disastrous in their con- 
sequences. Wittgenstein having recrossed the Dwina, 
detached upon his left the troops which captured Witepsk. 
Upon his right he employed Stengel's corps to oppose 
the Bavarians, and with the rest of his army he pursued 
the corps under the Duke of Reggio. In order to support 
that marshal, who commanded the only force able to 
check Wittgenstein, Napoleon found himself compelled to 
send the Duke of Belluno to his assistance, in the hope of 
being able to force the Russians to recross the Dwina, a 
fatal move, as this corps was annihilated by want of food 
and the extreme severity of the winter ; while, had it re- 
mained inactive until our arrival at Mistislavl, where it 
was securely cantoned, it would have remained intact to 
oppose Tschikagow, and by its presence would have en- 
couraged Schwartzenberg's corps of thirty thousand men 
to withstand the attacks in Volhynia. The Austrians 
would thus, by defending Minsk and closing the Borisow 
road against the enemy, have saved the French army the 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

horrors which it afterwards experienced on the banks of 
the Berezina. 

Through intercepted letters our leader was aware of 
all these manœuvres, but made no use of the knowledge. 
The Russians made no secret of their intention to take 
Napoleon alive, and then put his army to the sword ; but 
we were in such profound ignorance of these hostile 
movements, and had such complete confidence in the 
capacity for resistance of the corps by which our flanks 
were guarded, that we all expected the speedy end of our 
troubles at the very place where they became more 
terrible than ever. 

It was by no means the severity of the winter that 
spoilt the Emperor's plan, since, had he remained origin- 
ally between Smolensk and Witepsk, he could easily 
have repaired the losses he had sustained up to that 
period. The chie^indeedjthe only .cause of his. ruin, jwas 
his proceeding to Moscow in contemptuous disregard of 
the forces which he left in his rear, and in attempting, at 
the price of our blood, what the most imprudent of 
monarchs x shrank from attempting. The desire to sack 
that capital, the boast of there dictating laws, 2 led him to 
risk everything ; and forgetting winter and its rigours, he 
burnt the Kremlin without remembering that he was. 
supported only by allies whose loyalty was doubtful ;- 
that Wittgenstein had never abandoned the Dwina, and 
lastly, that Tschikagow, hastening up from Moldavia, 
would inevitably attack him on his retreat. 

1 Charles XII., to whom Napoleon often applied the epithet of " Madman." 

2 He gave laws only to the Comédie Française. See his regulations for 
the theatre, dated Moscow, 15th October 1812, appearing in the Moniteur 
of the 15th January 1813. 



The fourth corps ordered to Witepsk — Terrible march over icebound 
country — Awful passage of the Vop — Sufferings of the women and 
children — Dreadful plight of army. 

NAPOLEON, still ignoring the rapid progress of the 
enemy on the Dwina, resolved that the fourth 
corps should cross the Dnieper and proceed to Witepsk 
to relieve the garrison under General Pouget. In order 
to] ascertain whether, in spite of the weather, this route 
was still practicable, General Sanson was ordered to 
inspect it, and particularly to examine the banks of the 
Vop. The engineer officers Delahaye, Laignelot and 
Guibert accompanied him on this mission ; but the whole 
party had hardly reached the other side of the river when 
they fell into the hands of a party of the Cossacks who 
infested the district. 

Jth November, — Our corps having, however, been 
ordered to Witepsk, we left Doroghoboui and crossed 
the Dnieper by a bridge of rafts opposite the town. The 
artillery teams experienced great difficulty in mounting 
the opposite bank. The road having become as slippery 
as glass, these worn-out animals could no longer haul, 
and from twelve to sixteen of them had often to be 
harnessed to one gun, and even then had barely strength 
enough to climb the slightest hill. It had been intended 
that day to go as far as Zazele, but the road was so bad, 
that even next day the guns and waggons had not 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

reached the appointed place. A number of horses and 
ammunition waggons were abandoned, and it was on this 
dreadful night that looting of the vehicles commenced. 
The ground was covered with portmanteaux, clothes and 
papers. A great quantity of articles secretly brought 
from Moscow now began to appear. 

The handsome Château of Zazele presented during 
the night a repetition of the scenes of the previous even- 
ing; and with the exception of the soldiers into whom 
the pillage of the vehicles had put new life, nothing was 
to be seen on all hands but wretches dying of hunger and 
cold, and horses which, maddened by thirst, endeavoured 
to break the ice with their hoofs to find water. 

Zth November. — Our baggage was so enormous that 
our losses in that direction were still unappreciable. We 
kept advancing, still full of hope, and congratulated our- 
selves that by leaving the high road to Smolensk we 
should follow one less desolated by the calamities of war, 
where we might find villages undestroyed, which would 
afford us shelter from the fearful cold, furnish us with 
food, and above all supply forage for our starving horses. 
Alas ! this hope was soon dissipated. The village of 
Sloboda, where we halted for the night, only plunged us 
into fresh dismay. It had been completely sacked, and 
the Cossacks, hovering upon our flanks, captured, despoiled 
or slew all those who, forced by necessity, were foraging 
in the outskirts. In these terrible circumstances General 
Danthouard, who was continually to be found where 
danger was greatest, directed our artillery upon all the 
points where it could be made effective, but while riding 
along our lines a cannon-ball fractured his right leg after 
having killed the orderly at his side. 

The Viceroy, knowing that next day we should have 


to cross the Vop, had sent General Poitevin with several 
engineers to construct the necessary bridge. Next day 
(9th November) at an early hour we arrived at the river, 
but what was the dismay of the Prince and our despair, 
when we saw the whole army and its baggage train 
ranged up along the banks of the stream utterly unable 
to get across it. The bridge had been constructed by the 
sappers, but during the night a flood having destroyed it, 
it was neither possible to use nor to repair it. 

The Cossacks whom we had seen the previous evening 
were not long in advancing when they ascertained our 
critical situation. Already the fire of our skirmishers 
was heard attempting to check them, but the din of battle 
rapidly nearing us, showed only too clearly that the 
Russians had gained fresh courage at the sight of our 
predicament. The Viceroy, whose great soul had always 
been calm in the midst of the greatest dangers, preserved 
a sang-froid which was invaluable in this desperate 
dilemma. To tranquillise those who were more terrified 
by the appearance of the enemy than by the difficulty of 
crossing the Vop, he brought up fresh troops, who, by 
protecting our flanks and rear, enabled us to devote all 
our energies to effecting the passage of the river. 

The Prince, seeing that it would be desirable for some 
of his suite to afford an example to the rest by being the 
first to cross, requested his aide-de-camp, Bataille, and 
his orderly officer, Colonel Delfanti, to place themselves 
at the head of the Royal Guard and ford the Vop. These 
brave officers eagerly accepted the duty ; and in view of 
the whole corps plunged into the river. The water was 
up to their middle, and was full of floating ice, but, 
accompanied by the grenadiers, they succeeding in reach- 
ing the opposite bank. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

A few moments afterwards, the Viceroy followed with 
his staff. The vehicles next commenced to cross and the 
first got over safely, as well as some of the guns. As the 
Vop ran in a very deep bed, its steep and slippery banks 
made it impassable except at one place where a slope had 
been cut. But the guns sank into such deep ruts that it 
was impossible to extricate them, with the result that 
the only practicable ford was so blocked that it became 
impossible for the artillery and the rest of the army to 
use it. 

In this fearful position despair became universal, for 
in spite of all efforts to keep the Russians at bay, it 
was only too certain that they were advancing. Terror 
redoubled our dangers ; the river being half frozen, and 
the vehicles not being able to pass, those who had no 
horses were compelled to throw themselves into the 
water, while we were forced to abandon a hundred guns, 
a large number of ammunition waggons, carts and 
waggons which contained the small remains of the 
provisions brought from Moscow. Men threw away 
their accoutrements to load the horses with the most 
valuable of their effects. No sooner was a carriage 
abandoned than the mob of soldiers did not even give 
the owner time to select from among his property what 
he wished to preserve. They looted everything, but 
showed a marked preference for flour and liquor. On 
a report that the enemy was upon us, the gunners spiked 
and abandoned their pieces, hopeless of getting across 
a river which was everywhere encumbered with mud- 
embedded vehicles, and by innumerable corpses of the 
drowned. The cries of those struggling in the water, 
the terror of others who were in the act of crossing 

and who at each moment rolled back into the bed of 



the stream with their horses, owing to the slipperiness 
of the steep banks ; and lastly the despair of the women 
and the tears of the children, combined to make this 
passage such a scene of horror that the very recollection 
of it sends a shudder through my veins. 

Although it is distressing to recall such dreadful 
events I cannot forbear to record an example of 
maternal love, so affecting in itself and so creditable to 
human nature, that it was some relief to witness it amidst 
our unparalleled sufferings. 

A vivandière of our corps who had been through 
the whole campaign, returned from Moscow bringing 
in her carriage five young children, and all the profits 
of her industry. On arriving at the Vop she regarded 
with speechless dismay the river, which compelled her 
to leave on its banks the savings upon which the 
subsistence of her family depended. For some time 
she ran hither and thither trying to find a new passage, 
but all in vain, and addressing her husband she said, 
" Mon ami) we must abandon our all, and try to save 
the children." With these words, she took the two 
youngest out of the carriage and placed them in her 
husband's arms. I saw the poor father tightly clasp 
those two little creatures, and with tottering steps 
attempt to ford the stream, while his wife, falling on her 
knees on the bank, regarded alternately the earth and 
the heavens, with streaming eyes. As soon as her 
husband had safely crossed, she clasped her trembling 
hands in gratitude to God, and rising, exclaimed in 
a transport of joy, " They are saved, they are saved ! " 
But the two little ones who were deposited on the 
opposite bank, believing themselves to be deserted by 
their parents, called imploringly to them, so that on 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

each side of the river there was a scene of pathetic grief. 
At last tears ceased to flow and gave place to the joy 
which the family displayed on finding themselves all 

We left this scene of desolation towards the close 
of the day, and encamped near a miserable village about 
half a league from the Vop, where, in the middle of the 
night, we heard the lamentable cries of those still 
attempting to cross. Broussier's division had been left 
on the other bank, so as to hold back the enemy, and 
endeavour to save some part of the immense baggage 
which had been abandoned. Early in the morning 
(10th November) I was sent to recall this division, 
which in quitting the spot, revealed to me the full 
extent of our losses. For more than a league nothing 
was to be seen but ammunition waggons and guns ; the 
smartest calèches that had come from Moscow were 
scattered in heaps along the road and the banks of the 
river. As to the objects stolen from these carriages, 
such as were too heavy to be carried away had been 
thrown promiscuously into the fields. There were to 
be seen valuable candelabras, antique bronzes, and 
priceless paintings and porcelain. I myself saw an 
exquisitely worked bowl, on which was painted a 
beautiful design. I took it and drank out of this chalice 
the water of the Vop, full of mud and ice ; and after 
I had done so, threw the bowl away with the utmost 
indifference. Hardly had our troops quitted the other 
bank, when clouds of Cossacks descended upon the 
unfortunates who, through weakness, had not been able 
to get across. Although our enemies were already 
weighed down with booty, they nevertheless stripped 
their prisoners, leaving them naked in the snow. From 



our bank we saw the Tartars dividing these bloody 
spoils. If their courage had been equal to their love 
of plunder the Vop would have been no barrier to their 
attacking us. But these prudent foes, always frightened 
off by the sight of bayonets, contented themselves with 
firing at us a few cannon-shots, some of which reached 
our column. 

The night which we had passed through had been 
terrible. To get an idea of it, imagine an army 
encamped in the snow, in the midst of a Russian winter, 
pursued by the enemy, and with neither cavalry nor 
artillery to resist him. The soldiers without boots, and 
almost without clothing, were worn out with fatigue 
and hunger; seated on their knapsacks, they slept with 
their heads on their knees, and only awoke from this 
stupor to grill steaks of horse-flesh, or shake off pieces 
of ice ; very frequently even firewood was unprocurable ; 
and to obtain it the houses where the generals lodged 
were destroyed, so that on our waking the village had 



Encouraged by the French débâcle, the Cossacks renew their attacks — 
Splendid horror of a night fire — Joyful anticipations of Smolensk — 
Army followed by packs of famished dogs and flocks of ravens. 

THE Cossacks, who saw along the roads unmistakable 
proofs of our calamities, observing that we were 
quitting our position, speedily crossed the river and 
hung upon our rear, but the fourteenth division covered 
us with a dozen guns, which they had managed to retain. 
Meanwhile, the Prince and his officers endeavoured to 
restore order, and to incorporate with their regiments 
those soldiers who had been compelled by want to stray 
away in search of food. This attempt, however, had 
little success ; the number of stragglers was so large that 
it was impossible either to arrest or restrain them, and 
even when they were discovered and brought back, 
desertions soon recommenced ; as hunger — inexorable 
hunger — forced them to abandon the flag. The per- 
tinacity of the enemy increased with our misfortunes. 
They frequently attacked the rear-guard, and compelled 
us to halt to support it against the superior forces which 
threatened its destruction. 

The rear of our column was being actively followed, 
when the Royal Guard, which formed its head, was stopped 
in front of Doukhovchtchina by bands of Cossacks who, 
issuing from that town, deployed in the plain with the 



object of enveloping us. Seeing themselves hemmed in 
on all sides, our corps was thrown into such disorder 
that it was reduced to the condition of an immense mob, 
half of whom were sick and without arms. However, on 
the one side the enemy maintained a firm front, and on 
the other we pushed on urgently ; the Prince threw the 
Italian Guard into squares, with the dragoons and 
Bavarian light horse, who, marching in squadrons, forced 
the Cossacks to give us unmolested entrance into Douk- 
hovchtchina. Our troops were supported by the thirteenth 
division, whom we succeeded in forming in column in spite 
of the multitude of stragglers, who, pressing round the 
platoons, endangered the manoeuvre. To hasten the 
march of these troops the Viceroy personally super- 
intended the repair of the broken bridge which prevented 
our passage. In order to hearten us, he did not even 
hesitate to help in the work himself, and his self-sacrifice 
greatly stimulated our ardour. 

The little town of Doukhovchtchina, which none of 
our armies had hitherto passed, was absolutely intact. 
The inhabitants, fleeing on our approach, had left some 
provisions, which we seized with avidity although they 
were extremely coarse; but our greatest boon was the 
possession of decent houses where we could find shelter 
from the extreme cold and violent wind. 

On the previous evening the Viceroy had ordered his 
aide-de-camp, Bataille, to take with him the fifteenth 
division and proceed to Smolensk to inform Napoleon 
of the disasters which had overtaken us on the Vop. It 
was doubtless to enable him to receive a reply that the 
Viceroy remained at Doukhovchtchina (nth November). 
The capture of Witepsk by the Russians, however, decided 
him to rejoin the Emperor, and with that object to resume 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

the retreat at two in the morning, without waiting for 
Bataille's return. 

We were unmolested all that day, but towards ten at 
night, while we were enjoying a little sleep, the Cossacks 
suddenly appeared before the town, and fired some cannon- 
shots at our bivouac fires. The posts of the 106th Regiment, 
placed in front of a church, sustained some losses, but the 
presence of the Viceroy soon put a stop to the confusion 
created by such an unexpected attack. Our troops were 
at once called to arms, and disposed in the most advan- 
tageous positions to repel this night assault which, 
however, led to nothing, as the Cossacks took care not to 
push it further when they saw that we were on the alert. 

\2th November. — The time for departure having 
arrived, we set fire to Doukhovchtchina, the houses of 
which we had found so useful. Although we had long been 
accustomed to the effects of fire, we could not help being 
struck with the horrible but superb spectacle presented in 
the darkness by a snow-clad forest lit up by a vast torrent 
of flames. The trees enveloped in a coating of ice, 
dazzled the eyes and produced, as through a prism, 
the most vivid colours and the most delicate tints; the 
branches of the birches looked like those of the weeping- 
willow, bending towards the earth with the effect of 
chandeliers ; and the icicles reflecting the light, seemed 
to surround us with a shower of diamonds. 

In the midst of this splendid horror, the troops, having 

assembled outside the town, took the road to Smolensk. 

Although the night was extremely dark, the flames which 

arose from other villages, which had also been set on fire, 

formed so many aurora borealis, which shed upon our 

march an appalling illumination until daybreak. Near 

Toporovo we passed on our left the road to Pologhi, 



which we had followed on our march from Smolensk to 
Doroghoboui. The snow had almost buried the villages, 
and seen from a distance they were only black specks on 
a vast expanse of white. Their difficulty of access alone 
saved them from general destruction. In comparing these 
peaceful refuges with the torments we were enduring, I 
could not help exclaiming : " Fortunate people ! exempt 
from ambition, you live in tranquillity, while we succumb 
to the most frightful privations. Winter preserves your 
lives while it destroys ours ! When the sweet Spring 
brings you deliverance, you will, while gazing on our 
ravages, find in your fields our mouldering remains, 
and will experience the twofold satisfaction of having 
escaped the horrors of war, and of being guiltless of our 

The little river Khmost was frozen when we crossed 
it ; the bridge, which is a very good one, enabled us to 
make the passage without delay or obstacle. On arriving 
at Volodimerowa the Viceroy took up his quarters in the 
same château where he had lodged during our advance. 
We there found that the Cossacks, who had been con- 
tinually hovering about our flanks, had halted upon the 
same heights as ourselves. We soon ascertained this by 
their swoops upon our foragers, who, forced by the most 
dire necessity, were ransacking such of the neighbouring 
villages as had not hitherto been entirely cleared out. 

i^th November. — We were only one day's march from 
Smolensk, and it was there that plenty was to succeed to 
want, and repose to fatigue. Impatient to enjoy these 
longed-for delights, we left Volodimerova long before 
daylight, burning, as usual, the cottages where we had 
sheltered. Arrived at the hill of Stabna where the road 
from Doukhovchtchina branches off from that of Witepsk, 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

we found the greatest difficulty in climbing it. The side 
by which we had to ascend was one sheet of ice ; men 
and horses rolled down one on top of the other, and those 
were fortunate who, after all their fatigues, were able to 
get over. 

Before arriving at Smolensk, where our misery was 
expected to be at an end, dreadful scenes were encountered 
which made us all the more anxious to reach that town. 
In the midst of all the horrors with which we were 
overwhelmed, none suffered more than the French women 
who had come from Moscow, and who, in escaping from 
the vengeance of the Russians, imagined they would find 
a safe refuge with us. Mostly on foot, with cloth shoes, 
and scantily clad, they wrapped round them fragments 
of cloaks, or soldiers' capes, taken from corpses. Their 
pitiable situation would have drawn tears from the hardest 
heart, if our dreadful surroundings had not banished all 
sentiments of humanity. 

It was horrible to see and hear those enormous long- 
haired wolf-hounds, which, abandoning the burnt dwellings, 
followed us all along our route ; dying of hunger, they 
bayed as if they had gone mad, and in their fury often 
fought with the soldiers for the dead horses strewn along 
the road. The ravens, also, with which Russia swarms, 
attracted by the stench of the dead bodies, came wheeling 
in black clouds above us, with dismal cries of sinister omen, 
and, striking terror into our hearts, added to the intensity 
of our misery. 

Fortunately, we were now only two leagues from 
Smolensk, and the tower of its famous cathedral, which 
we saw in the distance, was the most delightful view we 
had ever seen. 



Arrival at Smolensk — Bitter disappointment and despair — State of the town — 
Criminal neglect of Napoleon to provide for wants of army — News of 
attempted rising in France. 

AN hour before arriving at Smolensk we left Broussier's 
division, with the few Bavarian light horse that 
remained to watch and hold back the Cossacks, who, 
in continually increasing numbers, seemed determined 
to follow us to the very gates of the town. But what 
was our despair when, on reaching the suburbs, we learnt 
that the ninth corps had long since departed, and that 
it was impossible to remain in Smolensk, where all the 
provisions had been consumed. A thunderbolt falling 
at our feet could not have overwhelmed us more than 
this dreadful news. We were so horrorstruck that at 
first we could not believe it. But alas ! we soon had 
ample proof of its truth, by seeing the garrison of 
Smolensk seeking subsistence from the horses which 
were falling dead from the fatigue of our march. We 
no longer doubted that famine reigned in the town 
which we had hitherto regarded as a land of plenty. 

In entering, we were plunged into the depths of 
depression. To relieve our immediate necessities we 
were promised a distribution of rice, flour and biscuit. 
This for a moment raised our spirits, but an instant 

afterwards we were shocked by a most distressing scene, 
p 225 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Hardly had we passed the barrier, when we saw a number 
of stragglers arriving, dripping with blood, who told us 
that the Cossacks were only two hundred yards behind. 
Captain Trezel, aide-de-camp to General Guilleminot, 
then came up. This officer had been entrusted with the 
most harassing duties, and had always discharged them 
with a zeal beyond all praise. That day he had been 
left behind to get the fourteenth division into position, 
and on his return he told us that it had been placed 
in a village behind a small wood which bordered the 
road ; that the enemy had surrounded it, but that as it 
was strongly entrenched near a château, the grounds of 
which were palisaded, it had given such a good account 
of itself that the Cossacks, despairing of attacking it 
with success, had retired to pick up stragglers, of which 
they secured a large number, slaughtering some and 
wounding many more. The road was covered with 
these poor wretches, and presented a most deplorable 
scene, particularly on the hill of Smolensk, the slope 
of which was so precipitate, and rendered so slippery 
by the frost, that these unfortunates were unable to climb 
it, and lay down on the other side, where death soon put 
an end to their sufferings. 

At last, after leaving the Royal Guard upon the 
summit to protect Broussier's division, which formed the 
rear-guard, we descended towards the Dnieper, and sought 
to enter the town. Near the bridge was the junction 
of the roads from Doroghoboui and Valontina which all 
the other corps had followed, and as these corps had 
not passed the Vop they still possessed a large part of 
their artillery and vehicles. This huge train, which rolled 
in from all directions, got mixed up with the infantry 
and cavalry, who, eager at all costs to enter Smolensk, 



where they had been promised bread, caused such con- 
fusion that it was three hours before we could penetrate 
into the town. 

i$th November. — To-day the wind was violent and 
the cold extreme. We were assured that it was twenty- 
two degrees below freezing-point; in spite of which we 
all thronged through the streets to buy provisions. 
Smolensk being built on the side of a hill, the ascent 
was so steep that in order to climb it we had to cling 
to rocks which jutted out of the snow. We managed at 
last to reach the top, and arrived at the great square 
and the houses which had suffered least from the con- 
flagration. Although the weather was frightfully severe, 
we sought for food rather than for lodgings. Some 
soldiers of the garrison, to whom a little bread had been 
distributed, were compelled to sell us some; and those 
who had bought it were implored by the others to give 
them a morsel. Officers and soldiers could thus be seen 
merged in one common herd, eating together in the 
middle of the streets. During this time the Cossacks 
arrived, and could be seen distinctly hovering upon the 
heights and firing on the troops who were marching 
below the town. 

We found great difficulty in obtaining a lodging. 
There were but few houses standing, and the crowd 
seeking shelter was immense. At last, packed together 
in great chambers, the vaulted roofs of which had with- 
stood the fire, we awaited with the greatest impatience 
the distribution of rations. But the preliminary formalities 
were so long that night arrived without our having 
received a morsel. We were thus compelled again to 
perambulate the streets and, gold in hand, try to find 

something to eat among the soldiers of the Imperial 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Guard, who, being more favoured than the rest of the 
army, had often plenty when we were starving. 

This town, therefore, where we had expected to find 
the end of our misery, most cruelly shattered our fondest 
hopes, and became, on the contrary, the scene of our 
deepest humiliation and the acme of our woes. The 
soldiers, deprived of shelter, camped in the middle of 
the streets, and some hours afterwards were found dead 
around the fires they had lighted. The hospitals, the 
churches and other buildings could no longer hold the 
sick, who could be counted by thousands. These un- 
fortunates, exposed to all the rigours of a freezing night, 
rested in the carts and ammunition waggons, or died 
vainly seeking for refuge. To sum up, we had been 
led to expect everything in Smolensk, and yet no 
provision had been made for our sustenance; nothing 
had been prepared to relieve an army which had to 
depend entirely on this town for its salvation. 

From that moment, despair filled every heart, and 
each man thinking of nothing but his own existence, 
forgot honour and duty, or rather, did not consider 
honour and duty to consist in obeying the orders of a 
callous leader who did not think it necessary to trouble 
himself about those who had sacrificed their lives for his 
sake. Men were to be seen, formerly the gayest of the 
gay and the bravest of the brave, who had totally lost 
their nerve, and now dreamt of nothing but disasters and 
catastrophes. 1 We had now only one thought — our 
country, and only one prospect — death. By a gloomy 

1 Much has been said about twenty thousand waggons intended for the 
transport of biscuits and flour, drawn by forty thousand bullocks, but I can 
affirm that very few of these arrived at Smolensk. The bullocks which got 
that far, owing to fatigue and bad food, contracted diseases which rendered 
their flesh so poisonous that the army doctors forbade its consumption. 



foreboding, each man, full of terror at his impending fate, 
spoke tremblingly and with an air of deep mystery of 
the armies from whom we might expect deliverance. 
"Where is Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr?" they asked in 
whispers. " He attempted to defend the Dwina, but has 
been forced to abandon Polotsk and to fall back on 
Lepel," was the gloomy reply. "And the Duke of 
Belluno ? He has not been able to reach the Oula. And 
the Russian army of Volhynia? It has driven Prince 
Schwartzenberg behind the Bug, is marching on Minsk, 
and advancing against us." Ah! if this news is true, 
repeated each to himself, our position becomes frightful, 
and we can only expect that on the banks of the Dnieper 
or the Berezina a great battle will complete our 

What fresh thoughts of gloom came to torment our 
harassed souls, when a vague and terrifying rumour 
began to circulate that a great agitation had sprung up 
in France ; that the towns of Nantes and Caen had risen, 
and that Paris, which for nearly twenty years had decided 
the fate of Europe, was also in a state of effervescence, 
which boded ill for our beloved fatherland. We learnt 
that the men who were known as the partisans of popular 
government had conceived the project of disseminating 
false news of Napoleon's death, and the complete destruc- 
tion of his army, so as to profit by the grief and con- 
sternation with which this falsehood would overwhelm the 
existing authorities, and persuade them that all was lost. 
If this plot had been concocted by responsible men 
anxious to distinguish themselves as saviours of their 
country, and to deliver it from an intolerable yoke to 
save it from the shame of being emancipated by the 
foreigner, the scheme would unquestionably have been 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

heroic. But instead of so noble an enterprise, we learnt 
that the conspirators had no other object in view than to 
rescue us from despotism in order to plunge us once more 
into the horrors of anarchy. Far from approving of this 
attempt, we desired that our country should be saved 
from the fury of parties ; for the perfidious policy of our 
oppressor had been so contrived that the welfare of a 
whole people was dependent upon him alone. By his 
monstrous Machiavellism he plunged France into war 
with the whole human race, so that the salvation of the 
nation might depend on the preservation of his person. 



Looting the stores — The Italian Guard of Honour and its terrible fate — 

Fresh disasters to French armies — Napoleon attempts to throw blame 

on Baraguay d'Hilliers — His gross injustice — The fourth corps leaves 
Smolensk — Débris of army — Its shocking demoralisation. 

WE were littered about on beds of dirty straw, 
and plunged in the gloomiest reflections, when 
suddenly we were startled by shouts of " Get up, get up, 
they are looting the food stores ! " We promptly sprang 
from our miserable beds, and hastily throwing on our 
clothes, seized whatever receptacles came first to hand — 
a sack, a basket or a bottle, and there were cries of " I 
am going for flour ; you go for brandy ; let the servants 
run for meat, biscuits and vegetables." In an instant the 
room was almost empty, every one rushing off helter- 
skelter for anything he could get hold of. Some time 
after, our friends began to return, and told us that the 
soldiers, dying of hunger, and not being able longer to 
endure the dilatoriness of the distributions, had over- 
powered the guards, and broken in the doors of the 
magazines to loot them. Those who first came back 
were as white as millers, and some had their clothes 
pierced with bayonet thrusts, having had a tussle with the 
sentries over a sack of flour. The rest returned half dead 
with fatigue, and deposited on the table a large basket 
full of biscuits, an enormous round of beef, and other 
comestibles. An hour later the servants arrived, bringing 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

rice, peas and brandy. At the sight of such plenty, our 
hearts expanded ; some indulged in laughter while 
kneading the bread, another sang joyously while cooking 
the meat, but many, resorting to the bottle, passed from 
the deepest melancholy to extravagant mirth. 

Although the weather was superb, the air was so sharp 
that one got frozen while passing through the streets. 
At almost every step many dead bodies were encountered, 
stretched upon the snow, having succumbed to the cold 
while hunting for shelter. These terrible disasters, and 
particularly our sojourn in Smolensk, prompt me to refer 
more especially to the sad fate of the Italian Guard of 
Honour, which by this time had been annihilated. 

It was composed of young men, selected from among 
the first families of the kingdom of Italy. Their parents 
had to guarantee them an allowance of twelve hundred 
francs a year as a condition of their joining the corps, the 
admittance to which was considered a very high distinc- 
tion. Among these young fellows were often found men 
of great talents and ample fortunes ; several being the 
only sons of illustrious houses. To these advantages 
were added great culture and all the qualities essential 
to the making of first-class soldiers. It was, in fact, the 
school from which issued the best officers of the Italian 
army. They acquired a consummate knowledge of 
military affairs by submitting to the rules and regulations 
of their corps, for although on joining each had the 
honorary rank of sub-lieutenant, they had nevertheless 
to serve as private soldiers. 

This Guard, after having greatly distinguished itself 
on all occasions, was conspicuous by its smart appearance 
and its rigid discipline, but it had suffered more than any 
other corps from the terrible privations we had under- 



gone; not at all a surprising matter, seeing that the 
Guards of Honour, being unskilled in the shoeing of 
horses and the repairing of their clothes and boots, were 
the first to feel the hardships which befel us, when the 
artificers and servants attached to their regiment had 
been lost. No longer possessing horses, and having to 
wear the heaviest and clumsiest boots, they were unable 
to endure the fatigue of our perpetual marches. Mixed 
up with the stragglers, they remained in the rear without 
food or shelter ; so that these sons of good family, born 
in a happier lot, perished even more miserably than the 
ordinary run of our soldiers, as their sense of honour 
prevented them from descending to acts of baseness to 
supply their wants. Some were to be seen enveloped in 
fragments of half-burnt cloaks ; others mounted upon 
wretched little native ponies, when they dropped from 
sheer fatigue and want, never rose again. Out of a total 
of three hundred and fifty, all except eight perished 

The night had been perfectly quiet, but next day 
(14th November) we heard cannon firing at intervals of 
about five minutes. The Viceroy, convinced that it was 
a signal of distress from General Broussier, at once 
mounted and, accompanied by his aides-de-camp and 
orderlies, rode towards the position, and on arriving at 
the hill of Smolensk, placed himself at the head of the 
Italian Guard. The cold was so intense that thirty-two 
grenadiers fell frost-bitten in attempting to get into line. 
General Broussier, who since daybreak had been engaged 
with the Russians, was forced to evacuate the village 
where he was entrenched. In his retreat the division 
slaughtered the enemy's posts which they encountered on 
their march, and by sheer pluck succeeded in reaching 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

the Viceroy, who was advancing to their support. The 
Prince, however, being extremely anxious to get the 
remnants of our forces into Smolensk, ordered the second 
brigade to drive away a Russian battery that was firing 
on the bridge over which the vehicles had to pass. 
General Heyligers at once brought two guns and a 
mortar into position, while about fifty men clambered up 
the hill to turn the enemy's field artillery ; but on seeing 
this movement it made off at a gallop. Our convoys 
issued from the defile, cleared the bridge, and continued 
their route under the very eyes of the Cossacks, who 
appeared rather to be escorting our baggage train than 
trying to capture it. 

14/^ November. — The Emperor, who was at 
Smolensk when we arrived there, daily received news 
of fresh disasters to his armies. That which affected him 
most was the forced retreat of Count Baraguay d'Hilliers, 
who had been sent with General Augereau towards Elnia 
to check Count Orloff Denisoff, who was advancing 
with fresh troops. Although General Augereau was 
entrenched, he could not, with only three thousand men, 
hold out for more than an hour against five thousand 
cavalry. Baraguay d'Hilliers, who was three leagues in 
his rear, fearing also to be enveloped, was compelled to 
fall back upon Smolensk, bringing with him the guns and 
the convoys. 1 

Out of his wits to know what to do in these terrible 

1 The results of this unfortunate campaign, and all the evils which it pro- 
duced, have been ascribed to General Baraguay d'Hilliers ; but it is easy to 
understand that a few weak battalions could not possibly hold back an entire 
army. Besides which, every fair-minded man can see clearly enough that 
Napoleon, embittered by defeat, only sought by this accusation to ascribe his 
own follies and blunders to a general of known capacity, whose soul was so 
pure and noble that this base calumny killed him. 



circumstances, Napoleon convened a Council of War, in 
which all the chiefs of corps and marshals of the Empire 
took part. Immediately afterwards he gave orders to 
burn a portion of our equipment, and then left in a 
carriage, accompanied by some chasseurs and Polish 
lancers of the Guard. At the close of the Council a 
report became current that we were to leave next day 
with the first corps, and that the third would leave 
last, in order to blow up the fortifications of the town and 
to form our rear-guard. The same day the Viceroy was 
closeted with General Guilleminot for a long time, and 
we awaited the result of their conferences with great 

\^th November. — To-day the order was at last given 
to continue our march, but we started late owing to the 
delay caused by the distribution of all the stores which 
the depots contained. The greater part of our women 
were left in Smolensk, a most dreadful position for them, 
as these poor creatures knew well enough that the 
remains of the city were to be destroyed, the houses 
given to the flames, and the churches and fortifications 
blown up. This would have been done had it not been 
prevented by the sudden arrival of the Hetman Platow, 
who entered the town a few hours after we left. 

When we marched out of Smolensk we beheld a sight 
which filled us with humiliation. Under the ramparts, 
once the witnesses of our triumph, was collected an 
immense number of guns which had to be left to the 
enemy. From this point up to the poverty-stricken 
village of Loubna, a distance of about three leagues, the 
road was completely covered with guns and ammunition 
waggons, which there had been no time to spike or blow 
up. Dying horses covered the road, more than thirty 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

thousand being dead in a few days. All the defiles 
through which the vehicles could not pass were choked 
with weapons, helmets, shakos and cuirasses. Trunks 
broken open, valises torn asunder, and clothes of all 
kinds were scattered along the valley. From time to 
time we saw trees, at the foot of which soldiers had tried 
to light fires, but these poor fellows had fallen dead while 
attempting to procure the means to warm their freezing 
bodies. They could be seen by the dozen, lying near 
green boughs which they had vainly endeavoured to 
ignite, and the multitude of corpses would have blocked 
our road had they not frequently been used to enable us 
to get across ditches and ruts. 

Such horrors, far from arousing our emotions, only 
hardened our hearts. Our cruelty no longer being able 
to vent itself on the enemy, we directed it against each 
other. The closest friendships were broken ; whoever 
showed the least sign of illness, if he were not lucky 
enough to be well mounted and to have about him faithful 
servants, was absolutely certain never to see his native 
country more. The greater number much preferred to 
save the loot of Moscow than their own comrades. On 
all hands were heard the groans of the dying and the 
dreadful lamentations of those who were being left 
behind; but every ear was deaf to their cries, and if 
any one approached those who were on the point of death 
it was only for the sake of plunder, or to discover if they 
still possessed a morsel of food. 

At Loubna, we could only save from destruction two 
miserable hovels, one for the Viceroy, and the other for 
his staff. Hardly had we established ourselves, when we 
heard a heavy cannonade in our front. As the sound 
seemed to be to the right of our position we concluded 



that it proceeded from the ninth corps, which, unable to 
hold its own against Wittgenstein, had been compelled to 
retreat. Those, however, who were better informed had 
no doubt that the Emperor and his Guard had been 
attacked before arriving at Krasnoë by Milloradowitch 
and OrlofT Denisofif, who, having come up from Elnia, had 
closed the road to our army while we remained in 

The scene presented by our bivouac was deplorable 
and gloomy in the extreme. Under the remnants of a 
shed, about twenty officers and as many servants were 
huddled round a small fire. Behind were all the horses 
littered in a semi-circle, to shelter us against the violence 
of the wind. The smoke was so dense that one could 
hardly see the figures crouching round the fire and 
blowing the embers upon which pieces of meat were being 
grilled. The rest, enveloped in pelisses or mantles, lay on 
their stomachs, huddled close together for the sake of 
warmth, and never moving except to curse any one walk- 
ing over them, damn the horses for kicking, or extinguish 
the sparks which the fire shot out on to their pelisses. 



Russians offer Viceroy terms— He scornfully rejects them— Critical position 
of fourth corps — It loses the last of its guns — How it was extricated — 
Narrow escape — Napoleon's danger and ill -temper — Loss of French in 
killed, wounded, prisoners and guns. 

BEFORE daybreak (16th November) we resumed our 
march, littering the road with our enormous débris. 
The horses could no longer haul, obliging us to abandon 
our guns at the foot of the smallest hill ; and the only 
duty remaining to the artillerymen — and a sad one too — 
was to shake the powder out of the cartridges and spike 
the guns to prevent them being turned against us. We 
were thus reduced to the most cruel extremity, when two 
hours before reaching Krasnoe, Generals Poitevin and 
Guyon, who were in advance, saw a Russian officer 
coming towards them, followed by a trumpeter who 
sounded a parley. Surprised at such an unexpected 
apparition, General Guyon stopped, and allowing the 
officer to approach, asked him whence he came and what 
was the object of his mission. " I come," he replied, 
" from General Milloradivitch to inform you that yesterday 
we beat Napoleon with the Imperial Guard, and that 
to-day the Viceroy is surrounded by an army of twenty 
thousand men ; he cannot possibly escape, and if he will 
surrender, we will offer him honourable terms." At those 
words General Guyon sternly rejoined : " Return im- 
mediately to those who sent you and inform them that if 



you have twenty thousand men, we have here eighty 
thousand." These words, uttered with an air of the most 
entire assurance, so completely silenced the envoy that he 
promptly returned to the camp whence he had come. 
Just after this interview the Viceroy arrived, and heard of 
it with mingled astonishment and indignation. Although 
his corps was practically destroyed, and he knew about 
the affair of the previous evening between Kutusoff and 
the Imperial Guard, the glorious way in which the latter 
had extricated itself inspired him with the hope of cutting 
his way through the enemy to rejoin it ; and he was 
resolved, in any case, to die with honour rather than 
accept terms which would have left a blot upon his 
reputation. He at once ordered the remains of the 
fourteenth division to face the enemy, taking with them 
the only two guns which we still had left. 

The Viceroy then took General Guilleminot apart, and 
conversed with him for some time, and the conclusion they 
arrived at was that we must press on at all costs. Mean- 
while our troops continued to advance, the Russians with- 
drawing before us as far as the foot of the plateau on 
which they were encamped. There they unmasked their 
guns (mounted on sledges to enable them to be moved 
with rapidity) and pounded our squares, while their 
cavalry, having descended from the heights, prepared to 
charge. The veterans of the 35th, although worn out 
with fatigue, hardly able to stand, and nearly all wounded, 
received the enemy with French valour, and their heroism 
can only be fully appreciated by those who grasp the 
desperate situation we were in. 

Through the fire of the enemy General Ornano ad- 
vanced with the rest of the thirteenth division to support 
the troops of the fourteenth, who were very hard pressed, 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

when a cannon-ball passed so close to him that it threw 
him from his horse ; he was thought to be dead, and the 
soldiers went up to plunder him, when it was found that 
he had only been stunned by the violence of his fall. The 
Prince then sent an orderly, Colonel Delfanti, to reanimate 
the troops. This brave officer, throwing himself into their 
midst through a hail of grapeshot, encouraged them both 
by voice and example ; but two dangerous wounds com- 
pelled him to quit the field. A surgeon having given him 
first aid, he left the battle with much difficulty, and on 
his way was met by Monsieur de Villeblanche, who, as 
auditor to the Council of State, should have left Smolensk 
with General Charpentier, the Governor. Unfortunately 
for him, however, he asked and obtained from the Viceroy 
permission to accompany him. This young gentleman 
perceived the wounded Colonel Delfanti, supported by an 
officer, and moved solely by sympathy, offered him his 
arm. All three were slowly leaving the field when a 
cannon-ball struck the Colonel between the shoulders and 
took off de Villeblanche's head. The two hundred men, 
who had been brought by Colonel Delfanti, advanced to 
support the square of the 35 th, which was commanded 
by General Heyligers, but deprived of their leader, they 
placed themselves partly in front and partly behind the 
square. The enemy's cavalry, profiting by this confusion, 
renewed their charge, slaughtered the soldiers, and 
captured the last two guns, which had only fired a few 
shots for want of ammunition. General Heyligers was 
attempting to rally his feeble remnant, when he received 
three sabre cuts on the head, and when two Russian 
chasseurs were on the point of running him through with 
their bayonets, a cavalry man, who recognised him as a 
general, seized him by the collar and took him prisoner. 



A large number of distinguished officers fell during 
this bloody day. The guns continued their heavy fire 
and carried death and destruction everywhere ; the battle- 
field was covered with the dead and dying, and many of 
the wounded, throwing away their arms, swelled the 
numbers of the stragglers. The same discharges which 
had torn the front ranks, carried death into the rear of the 
army, where many dismounted officers were collected. It 
was there that Captains Bordoni and Mastini fell, two of 
the small number of the Italian Guard of Honour who 
yet survived. 

The Viceroy seeing the determination with which the 
enemy blocked our passage, feigned, by an adroit move- 
ment, to be desirous of prolonging the action on our left 
by rallying and reanimating the fourteenth division ; and 
while the Russians concentrated the majority of their 
forces on that point, so as to surround the division, the 
Prince ordered all who still survived to move off to the 
right and join the Royal Guard, which had not been 
engaged. During this movement Colonel Kliski gave 
a remarkable example of presence of mind. He was 
familiar with Russian, and was riding in advance of our 
column, when he was seized by one of the enemy's 
vedettes, who called out in Russian, " Qui vive ? " The 
intrepid officer, not at all disturbed by so annoying a 
rencontre^ advanced towards his challenger, and said to 
him in his own language, " Shut up, you fool ; don't you 
see that we belong to the corps of Ouwarow, and that we 
are on a secret expedition ? " To this the soldier made 
no reply, and allowed us to pass in the darkness without 
another word. 

We had all managed to elude the vigilance of the 
Russians except the fifteenth division which, under the 
Q 241 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

command of General Triaire, was left as rear-guard, with 
orders to march as soon as the Prince had completed his 
manoeuvre. We were just about to pass before the enemy 
when the night, instead of affording us a welcome obscurity, 
was suddenly illuminated by the most brilliant moonlight. 
The snow rendered our march all the more visible, and 
it was not without great anxiety that we saw ourselves 
flanked by clouds of Cossacks who, approaching un- 
pleasantly close to us as if to reconnoitre, returned 
immediately to the squadrons from which they had been 
detached. Several times we believed we were about to 
be charged, but General Triaire, by halting his column, 
imposed sufficiently on the enemy to deter him from 
attacking us. At last, in spite of the ravines and the 
snowdrifts that obstructed its march, this division 
succeeded in regaining the high road. An hour after- 
wards we effected our junction with the Young Guard, 
which was encamped on this side of the river, at a short 
distance from Krasnoë. The Emperor was there, and 
that fact went far to dissipate our fears. 

In describing to the soldiers of the Guard the action 
we had fought, they told us that they, too, had had to cut 
their way through the enemy, and that the fusiliers, under 
General Rouget, had carried at the point of the bayonet 
a village where the enemy had concentrated to bar the 
passage. In this fight Napoleon had been exposed to 
great danger, and had only escaped through the valour 
of his troops. In this connection it is stated that the 
band of the Guard, having rejoined him after a prolonged 
separation, struck up the air of " Home, Sweet Home ! " x 
But as in the midst of icebound deserts this ditty was 

1 At all events that appears to be the best rendering of the French title, 
" Où peut-on être mieux qu'au sein de sa famille?" 



capable of a double meaning, Napoleon took it in very- 
bad part, and growled out to the musicians, " You would 
do better to play ' Let us watch over the safety of the 

The Emperor's staff, his Guard, his cavalry and the 
fourth corps being all assembled together in this small 
town, choked it up to such a pitch that there was hardly 
room to move about the streets. They were filled with 
soldiers lying around their fires, which they could only 
make by demolishing the wooden houses, and burning 
the doors and window-sashes of such as were built of 
stone. The Viceroy was well received by the Emperor, 
in spite of his bad temper over his unaccustomed humilia- 
tions, and he approved particularly of the stratagem by 
which the enemy had been circumvented. Their con- 
ference lasted all through the night, and meanwhile the 
Prince's suite camped in the streets until Napoleon and 
he appeared, and placing themselves at the head of the 
Guard, marched upon the position occupied by the 
Russians, in order to extricate the first, third and fifth 
corps, which formed the rear-guard, and were in the same 
fix that we had been in on the previous evening. 

A fresh action now took place, and it was obstinate 
and bloody. Only by bravery combined with ability 
could the Prince of Eckmiihl succeed in saving the troops 
under his command. The Duke of Elchingen who re- 
mained to the last, found himself opposed by such superior 
forces that he was unable to rejoin us. Hoping against 
hope, the Emperor was reluctant to quit Krasnoë, but 
the enemy getting round to our rear compelled us to 
evacuate the position. We frequently paused to listen 
for the sound of firing which might herald the arrival of 
our rear-guard. We listened, however, in vain, and at last 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

had to depart, sad at being unable to relieve a marshal 
of France who, far from accepting the offers of the enemy, 
threw himself across the Dnieper with the remnant of his 
troops, fighting incessantly. The Russians, on their side, 
found it impossible to believe in the success of such 
audacity, and redoubled their efforts to compel him to 

Such overwhelming disasters, however, far from de- 
tracting from our fame, increased it. Kutusoff and 
Milloradowitch, less astonished at the immense wreckage 
we left behind us than at our indomitable pluck and 
perseverance, admitted to our captured officers that they 
only owed their success to the elements, and loudly 
eulogised our generals, who, reduced to the most cruel 
extremity, returned a dignified refusal to every summons 
to surrender. 

Twenty-five guns and several thousand prisoners were 
the fruits obtained by the Russians from four successive 
actions, in which all we had to oppose to an entire army 
was a miserable remnant of exhausted troops, harassed 
by unparalleled marches, and for two months almost 
without food, ammunition and artillery. 

The Russians have divided our retreat into three 

principal epochs, which have each a separate character, 

besides recording the progress of our disasters. The 

first ends with the action of Krasnoë; the second with 

the passage of the Berezina, and the third with that of 

the Niémen. From this record it will be found that up 

to the close of the first epoch, the period at which we 

have now arrived, we had lost thirty thousand prisoners, 

twenty-seven generals, five hundred guns, and in addition 

to our immense train of baggage, all the plunder of 

Moscow which we had not burnt. If to these be added 



the forty thousand men dead of cold or hunger or killed 
in battle, it will be found that our army was reduced to 
thirty thousand men, out of whom, including the Imperial 
Guard, there were not more than eight thousand effective. 
The twenty-five guns which the Guard had saved were 
not worth counting, as it was a matter of certainty that 
they would have to be abandoned. As to the cavalry, 
it had almost ceased to exist. Such is the exact tale of 
the losses which we had sustained during one month's 
march ! It filled us with gloomy forebodings, for we 
were scarcely half-way to the Niémen, with three rivers to 




Critical position of French army — Russian armies on line of retreat — March 
on Liadoui, with frequent bloody engagements — Liadoui burnt — Shock- 
ing fate of the wounded — The fiasco of the "Sacred Squadron" — The 
soldiers clamour for bread — Napoleon harangues his Guard. 

THE terrible disasters which had befallen us between 
Moscow and Krasnoë seemed to justify the hope 
that we had seen the worst, and that the future had better 
things in store for us. This appeared all the more prob- 
able as Jomini held the strong position of Orcha, which 
should enable us to cross the Dnieper without opposition, 
and thus effect our junction with the corps of Dembrowski 
and the Dukes of Reggio and Belluno. Moreover, we 
were now approaching the line within which were our 
magazines, and were about to enter an inhabited country, 
which we looked upon as belonging to our ally ; added to 
which, Prince Kutusoff, with a view to concerting his plan 
of attack with the army of Moldavia, which was about to 
join him, abandoned the pursuit and restricting himself to 
harassing us with Cossacks, reserved his final coup for the 
banks of the Berezina. 

All these flattering hopes were, however, speedily dis- 
sipated when we learnt that Admiral Tschikagow, coming 
from the Danube, had repulsed the troops opposed to him 
and had driven them nearly as far as Warsaw ; that the 


The Berezina 

Austrians, retiring behind the Bug, had abandoned the 
important position of Minsk, where all our depots were 
situated, with an immense quantity of provisions ; and 
finally, that the Admiral was marching on Borisow to 
intercept our passage of the Berezina, and there to effect 
his junction with the corps of Wittgenstein and Stengel. 
As a matter of fact, these two generals, ever since the fatal 
battle of Polotsk (18th October), being no longer held in 
check by our second and sixth corps, had marched, the 
first towards Tschachniki to get into communication with 
the army of Moldavia, and the other upon Veleika to cut 
off the Bavarians. The union of all these corps meant 
the complete ruin of the French army, and it was to avert 
this frightful danger that Napoleon was advancing by 
forced marches to the Berezina. 

\Jth November. — As soon as the Prince of Eckmiihl 
had effected his junction with us, and the Duke of 
Elchingen had thrown himself to the other side of the 
Dnieper, we put ourselves in motion at about eleven in 
the morning to proceed to Liadoui. While we were at 
Krasnoë, the Cossacks surrounded the town, and formed 
in column, followed us all along the road. We made a 
feint to attack them so as to give the baggage and the 
convoy of wounded time to get away. The Russians, 
however, refused the engagement, having observed that 
the rest of our force had halted, and was in great dis- 
order, owing to the difficulty experienced by the horses in 
getting through the valley, which separated the town from 
the plateau. They fell, accordingly, upon a section of the 
vehicles, and captured them without resistance ; amongst 
others taken being the waggon of the general staff, con- 
taining the records of correspondence and all the plans, 
maps and memoranda relative to the campaign. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

As the enemy continually advanced, subjecting us to 
a galling cannonade, the Emperor placed himself in the 
centre of a square of the Guard, and posted the cavalry 
on his wings, while the remnants of the first corps, with 
the voltigeurs and the fusiliers, under the Duke of Treviso, 
formed our rear-guard. Napoleon could not bring himself 
to abandon the Duke of Elchingen, and therefore ordered 
frequent halts, each of which resulted in a sanguinary 
struggle with the enemy. 

We entered Liadoui towards nightfall. Above the 
little river which had to be crossed before reaching the 
town, there is a very elevated plateau, the slopes of which 
were so slippery that we had to slide down them. Liadoui 
presented an unaccustomed sight — there were inhabitants 
to be seen. Although they were all Jews, we forgot the 
dirtiness of that sordid nation, and succeeded in buying 
from them a few necessaries in a town which at first sight 
appeared absolutely ruined ; so that the very cupidity for 
which we hold them in contempt was exceedingly lucky 
for us, as it prompted them to run any risk to drive a 
good bargain. 

Liadoui being in Lithuania, we imagined that it 
would be spared, as belonging to the ancient kingdom 
of Poland. Next day (18th November) we left while it 
was still dark, and to our great surprise found ourselves 
lighted on our way as usual by the burning houses. This 
particular destruction resulted in one of the most horrible 
scenes of our whole retreat, and I would recoil from 
describing it if the recital did not serve to render more 
hateful the devilish ambition to which this barbarous 
expedition was due. 

Among the houses that were in flames, there were 
three large barns full of soldiers, mostly wounded. It 


The Berezina 

was impossible to issue from the last two of these without 
passing through the first, which was in a blaze. The 
nimblest saved themselves by leaping out of the window, 
but those who were ill or crippled, saw the flames ad- 
vancing to consume them, without being able to move. 
At the shrieks uttered by these poor wretches some of the 
less callous among the soldiers tried to save them. But 
their efforts were in vain, and soon nothing could be seen 
but bodies half buried under burning joists. Through the 
clouds of smoke, they implored their comrades to put them 
out of their agony, and it was considered true humanity 
to do so. Those who still lived screamed, " For God's 
sake, shoot us — through the head, through the head. 
Shoot straight ! " and these heart-rending cries continued 
until an appalling death put an end to them. 

By this time the cavalry was entirely dismounted, and 
Napoleon requiring an escort, united at Liadoui all the 
officers who still possessed horses in order to form four 
companies of a hundred and fifty men each. Generals 
Defrance, Saint-Germain, Sebastiani and others acted as 
captains, colonels and subalterns. This squadron, to 
which was given the name of "sacred," was commanded 
by General Grouchy, under the direction of the King of 
Naples. It was a fundamental law of its organisation 
that it was never to lose sight of the Emperor; but its 
horses, which had hitherto survived only because they had 
been better looked after than those of the rank and file, 
soon perished when exposed to the rough work of the 
campaign, so that at the end of a few days the " Sacred 
Squadron " had ceased to exist. 

The enemy continued to follow us at a distance of 
some two to three musket-shots, while the remnants 
of our army, having no longer the means of defence, 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

marched in extreme disorder, continually harassed by 
the Cossacks, who in every defile fell upon the rear of 
our column, and captured the baggage, obliging us to 
abandon the guns which the horses could no longer 
haul. Up to this time Napoleon had travelled in a 
comfortable weather-proof calèche, filled with furs, and 
he wore a pelisse and cap of sables, which prevented 
him from feeling even the most extreme cold. After 
passing Krasnoë, however, he often marched on foot, 
followed by his staff, and beheld without the least emotion 
the miserable wreckage of a once powerful army. And 
yet in spite of all that had happened, his presence never 
excited the slightest murmur. On the contrary, it seemed 
to infuse courage, even into the hearts of cowards, who 
always appeared reassured when the Emperor was by. 

Nevertheless, we were rapidly nearing the lowest 
depths of misery, and " Bread ! Bread ! " was the only 
cry of the feeble remnant of the most formidable army 
that ever existed. The employees of the various 
administrative departments were much to be pitied, 
especially the commissaries and store-keepers, a class 
little accustomed to endure privations. But even those 
were less worthy of commiseration than the doctors, and 
particularly the surgeons, who, without the slightest 
hope of promotion, were exposed to the same dangers 
of battle as the soldiers whom they tended on the field. 
While I was in Doubrowna I happened to be near a 
house which a great crowd of soldiers were trying to 
enter, under the belief that provisions were being sold 
there. My attention was caught by a young surgeon, 
who appeared to be in an extreme state of depression 
and who with a disordered look was trying to enter 
this dwelling. Seeing that he was continually being kept 


The Berezina 

back by the crowd and that he showed unmistakable 
signs of acute despair, I ventured to ask him the cause. 
" Ah, Captain," said he, "I am a ruined man. Having 
had nothing to eat for two days, I heard on arriving 
here that bread was being sold at this house. On giving 
six francs to the sentry he permitted me to enter, but 
as the bread was still in the oven, the Jew who was in 
charge of it refused to promise me any unless I paid 
him a louis in advance. I gave it him, and now when 
I have returned, I find the sentry changed and am 
brutally kept from entering. Ah, sir! I am the most 
unlucky wretch on earth. I have spent the whole of 
the money I had left for nothing, and have not tasted 
bread for more than two months." 

The day on which we arrived at Doubrowna, Napoleon, 
as was now his custom, marched a great part of the 
way on foot. As the enemy did not attack us, he had 
ample opportunity of observing the deplorable condition 
of his army, and how little he could rely upon the reports 
of the leaders who, knowing what danger they ran if 
they told him the truth, concealed it from him, to avoid 
being ignominiously dismissed. He seemed to think 
that his discourses partook of the nature of magic, and 
that by bullying the officers and cracking the lowest 
jokes with the men, he could inspire the former with 
fear and the latter with courage. But the day had 
passed when his slightest word worked miracles ; his 
iron despotism had destroyed the illusion, and having 
by his own example stifled in our hearts every generous 
sentiment, his appeals had entirely lost their force. 

But what must have disquieted Napoleon most of 

all was the fact that his Guard was infected with the 

general discouragement. With an impassive countenance 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

concealing the agitation of his heart, he assembled a 
part of these veterans before leaving Doubrowna, and 
placing himself in their midst, impressed on them 
the absolute necessity of maintaining discipline, adding 
that they were the pride of his armies and had been 
the means of obtaining his greatest victories. These 
fine sentiments were, however, somewhat out of place 
at this juncture; and it was brought home to this man, 
who aspired to heroism in contempt of morality, that no 
true glory can be achieved by schemes, however vast, 
which are not directed to laudable ends, and carried out 
in accordance with the laws of humanity and justice. 



Fosition of Orcha not occupied by Russians — Its importance — Deputation of 
Poles to Napoleon — He is ashamed to receive them — Ney's heroism — 
Napoleon endeavours by threats to rally his troops — His artifices to 
deceive the enemy — Junction of Russian armies places him in great peril. 

HALF an hour after quitting Doubrowna (19th 
November), we traversed a very wide and deep 
ravine, through the middle of which ran a river, the 
opposite bank of which completely dominated the one 
by which we had arrived. On seeing this important 
position, we thanked Heaven that the Russians had not 
occupied it to stop our passage, especially as this showed 
that they were not in possession of the town of Orcha. 
As a matter of fact, a picked body of gendarmerie, recently 
arrived from France, had maintained themselves there, 
and we struck the Dnieper towards two in the afternoon 
without having been molested even by Cossacks ; a rare 
stroke of luck, for in our present state of disorder it 
would have been quite impossible to have forced these 
two terrible positions. 

Two bridges had been constructed over this great 
river, and the gendarmerie were guarding them. As 
every one wanted to be the first to cross, the crowd was 
enormous, but happily no fatalities occurred. Napoleon 
arrived at Orcha shortly after us, and the wooden houses 
of which the town consisted were at once occupied by the 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

general staff, and a swarm of soldiers. As usual, the Jews 
at first supplied us with a few necessaries, but the 
number of buyers was so great that the stock was soon 

The further I examined the position of Orcha the less 
could I understand why the enemy had not attempted to 
occupy it. This town, situated on the right bank of the 
Dnieper, which is considerably higher than the left, is 
protected by projecting bluffs, which form what are to all 
intents and purposes natural bastions. Below them flows 
the river, which is here about twelve hundred feet broad, 
and forms an immense moat, which the most formidable 
army could not cross without exposing itself to total 
destruction. While we were upon these bluffs we heard 
the fire of our rearmost skirmishers ; and a moment after- 
wards all who had remained on the other bank rushed 
across to us, shouting, " The Cossacks ! the Cossacks ! " 
The Tartars shortly afterwards appeared, but in such 
small numbers that a panic of this kind would have 
excited indignation and contempt had not the fugitives 
consisted of unfortunate stragglers, entirely without 
weapons and most of them wounded. 

20th November. — Next day we were pretty tranquil, 
and only heard a few musket-shots, which were fired 
occasionally at the Cossacks; but as by this time we 
were quite used to their game of advancing and then 
bolting at the sight of armed troops, their performances 
had ceased to interest us. We were thus enabled to 
enjoy the unaccustomed delight of a day of complete 
rest; and some provisions which General Jomini, the 
Governor of Orcha, had reserved for the passage of the 
army, were all the more welcome, as since leaving 
Smolensk, we had received no distribution of food, the 


The Berezina 

stores at Krasnoë having been looted by the Cossacks 
before our arrival. 1 

The Poles were in such utter ignorance of the deplor- 
able condition into which Napoleon's army had fallen, 
that a deputation from the province of Mohilow reached 
Orcha the very day of our arrival to congratulate him on 
his return. But his actual situation contrasted so painfully 
with the vainglorious boasting with which he had 
heralded his march to Moscow, that he could not bring 
himself to face these deputies. Wishing to save himself 
the humiliation of such a painful interview, he politely 
begged to be excused, while assuring them that they 
might always count upon his protection. 

The day had been very quiet ; but what was our joy 
when in the middle of the night we learnt that a great 
commotion in the town was caused by the arrival of the 
Duke of Elchingen who, as already stated, had been 
compelled to abandon the line of retreat that we had 
followed, and seek another on the other side of the 
Dnieper. For three days he never ceased fighting the 
enemy, and displayed on this occasion the most extra- 
ordinary courage and capacity. Having to traverse an 
entirely unknown country, he marched in square, success- 
fully repelling the attacks of six thousand Cossacks, who 
day after day fell upon him with the object of forcing 
him to capitulate. This heroic resistance put the cope- 
stone to his already brilliant reputation, and proved that 
there is more merit in rising superior to the blows of 
Fortune, than in profiting by her favours. 

21st November. — We left Orcha just as it was being 

1 I should state that only soldiers present at roll-call were included in the 
distributions, and they numbered less than a fifth part of the army. Apart 
from that, in the space of two months only three distributions were made, 
namely, at Smolensk, Orcha and Kowno. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

set on fire. In climbing the mountain to regain the high 
road we heard several musket-shots, which came from the 
soldiers of the first corps, left in the town as a rear-guard, 
and who were already attacked by the Cossacks. During 
our sojourn at Orcha, Napoleon foreseeing that he must 
soon find himself in a still more critical position, exerted 
himself to the utmost to rally his troops. To the sound 
of the drum he had it proclaimed by three colonels that 
stragglers who did not at once rejoin their regiments 
would be punished with death, and that officers and 
generals who abandoned their posts would be cashiered. 
When we reached the high road we saw what little effect 
had been produced by this measure. Everything was in 
the most frightful confusion ; and the soldiers, without 
weapons and insufficiently clad, showed their contempt 
for it by continuing to march in the same disorder as before. 
An hour before arriving at Kokhanovo we camped in 
a poor village where there were two or three hovels left. 
Kokhanovo itself, where we passed the next day, was 
absolutely destroyed, with the exception of the posting- 
house, which the gendarmes had occupied. Proceeding, 
we were traversing a road which the thaw had made into 
a sea of mud, when we received an order not to proceed 
as far as Toloczin where the Emperor was established, 
but to stop at a large château about half a league short 
of it. In order to hoodwink the enemy Napoleon often 
adopted the expedient of sleeping at an entirely different 
place from that which had been announced in the 
morning; and this frequently involved his camping on 
the road in the middle of squares formed by the Guard. 
In these bivouacs, cold and want of food so enfeebled the 
soldiers, that his escort diminished daily to a fearful 



The Berezina 

The road from Orcha to Toloczin is unquestionably- 
one of the finest in Europe. Running in a straight line, 
it is flanked by double rows of birch trees, the branches 
of which were then covered with snow and icicles, and 
descended gracefully to the earth in a manner suggestive 
of weeping-willows. But alas ! this majestic avenue was 
for us a via dolorosa ; nothing was to be heard on all 
sides but groans and lamentations ; some, protesting that 
they could go no farther, lay down on the road and 
implored us to convey their papers and money to their 
families ; a little farther on could be seen others clasping 
their children in a last embrace, or attempting to restore 
life to the inanimate forms of women who died of hunger 
and fatigue. 

The Emperor learnt that the combined armies of 
Volhynia and Moldavia had taken Minsk (16th November) 
and were marching towards the bridge of Borisow to bar 
our passage of the Berezina. It is said that on hearing 
this fatal news he calmly observed, " It has then been 
ordained that we are to do nothing but make fools of 
ourselves in this campaign," an extraordinary observation 
to make in such critical circumstances. He knew also 
that the armies of Wittgenstein and Stengel, which had 
been victorious on the Dwina, were vigorously pressing 
the second and sixth corps, with the object of gaining 
Borisow, and effecting a junction with Admiral Tschikagow 
and Prince KutusofT. In order to prevent the execution 
of a plan which would have completed our ruin, Napoleon 
had ordered General Dembrowski to raise the siege of 
Bobruisk in order to march on Minsk, which it was of 
vital importance to us to retain. But the gross incom- 
petence of the Governor of that place resulted in its 
surrender before succour arrived. Dembrouski then 
R 257 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

marched on Borisow, where he found the remains of the 
garrison of Minsk. He established himself in the tête 
de pont, but on the 21st November, after a sanguinary- 
engagement with the divisions of Langeron and Lambert, 
he found himself compelled to evacuate his position, and 
retire upon Nemonitsa. The enemy having then passed the 
Berezina, marched upon Bobr and appeared on our front. 
The Duke of Reggio, who was at Tschereia, having learnt 
of the loss of Borisow and the bridge, marched to the 
assistance of Dembrowski, so as to secure the passage 
of the river for the army. On the next day (24th 
November) the Duke of Reggio encountered Lambert's 
division near Nemonitsa. At four o'clock he attacked 
and beat it. At the same time General Berkheim, by 
a charge of the 4th Cuirassiers drove the enemy back 
across the Berezina, capturing seven hundred prisoners 
and a large quantity of baggage. 



Napoleon prepares to cross the Berezina at Weselowo — Movements of the 
Russians to interrupt him — Contrast between the advance and retreat 
of the French army — Brutalising effect of disasters — Passage of the 
Berezina — Appalling results of the breaking of the bridge — Horrible 
loss of life. 

THE army of Moldavia, having in its march cut off 
the great bridge of Borisow, commanded the whole 
of the right bank of the Berezina, and occupied with 
four divisions the principal points by which we might 
attempt to debouch. During the day of the 25th, 
Napoleon manoeuvred to elude the enemy's vigilance, 
and succeeded by stratagem in establishing himself in 
the village of Weselowo, situated on a hill commanding 
the river which we had to cross. In spite of the opposition 
of the Russians he there superintended the construction 
of two bridges, by which the Duke of Reggio passed the 
sixth division over the river. Attacking the troops which 
opposed his passage, he defeated and pursued them 
without a moment's respite up to the tête de pont of 
Borisow. Napoleon by this manoeuvre was able to 
satisfy himself that the Admiral was alone on the right 
bank, and that Wittgenstein's army had not yet effected 
its junction with him. 

The Duke of Belluno who, since the actions of 
Smoliani (where he took three thousand prisoners) had 

held the corps of Wittgenstein in check, having received 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

orders to support the movement of the Duke of Reggio, 
was followed in his retreat by the Russian army of the 
Dwina. By this retrograde march he effected a junction 
with the rest of the army returning from Moscow, but 
Wittgenstein, instead of continuing the pursuit, manoeuvred 
to co-operate with Kutusoff, whose advance-guard under 
Milloradowitch was still five days' march from us. During 
these operations, which occupied from the 23rd to the 
27th November, we marched without molestation. The 
days were so short that although we made little progress 
we had to march partly by night, which resulted in many 
of the soldiers going astray and losing themselves. 

The second and the ninth corps, and the Poles 
under Dembrowski not having been to Moscow, had 
such an enormous quantity of baggage that from Borisow 
to Weselowo the road was covered with carriages and 
ammunition waggons. The reinforcements which they 
brought us were a very powerful help, but it was alarming 
to reflect that this mass of men, in the midst of a vast 
desert would, in the long-run, only redouble our diffi- 
culties. However, marching always amidst extreme 
confusion with the corps of the Duke of Belluno, we 
found ourselves, two hours later, stopped by such an 
enormous crowd that there was no longer any possibility 
of moving. In the midst of this rabble there were a few 
wretched barns built on the summit of some rising ground, 
and as the chasseurs of the Guard were encamped around 
them, we concluded that Napoleon had taken up his 
quarters there, and that we were close to the banks of 
the Berezina. It was at this precise spot that Charles XII. 
passed that river in his march to Moscow. 

What an appalling spectacle was this multitude of men, 

overwhelmed with every kind of misery, crowded together 


The Berezina 

in an icy swamp ! That army which only two months 
since had triumphantly overrun half the surface of the 
greatest Empire in the world ! Our soldiers, pale, dejected, 
dying of hunger and cold, having nothing to defend them 
from the rigours of the season but tattered fragments of 
pelisses, or half-burnt sheepskins, despairingly wandered 
along the bank of this horrible river. Germans, Poles, 
Italians, Spaniards, Croats, Portuguese and French, all 
jumbled together, each lamenting his hard fate in his 
own language ; the officers and even the generals wrapped 
in filthy and ragged cloaks, mixed up with the soldiers and 
cursing those who jostled them or defied their authority 
— all these together produced a confusion and tumult 
which it is beyond the power of language to describe. 

Those who from weariness and ignorance of their 
danger were indifferent as to passing the river, tried to 
light fires and seek repose from their fatigues. These 
bivouacs showed to what a degree brutality could be 
engendered by excess of suffering. Men could be seen 
fighting each other for a morsel of bread ; if, perishing 
with cold, a shivering wretch approached one of these 
fires the soldiers to whom it belonged inhumanly drove 
him away; and if another, dying of thirst, implored a 
drop of water from some one carrying a pailful, the refusal 
was accompanied by a torrent of oaths. It was the 
commonest thing to hear educated men who had hitherto 
been bosom friends, quarrelling over a wisp of straw or 
a piece of horse-flesh which they were cutting up. This 
campaign was also horrifying in that it entirely changed 
our natural characters, breeding in us vices to which 
previously we had been utter strangers. Even those who 
had formerly been honest, compassionate and generous, 
became selfish, avaricious ; bloodsuckers and depraved. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

The pretence which had been made at Borisow of 
repairing the great bridge, had considerably reduced 
the number of the enemy's troops opposite Weselowo, 
especially as Kutusoff, being badly informed of the 
point at which we would cross the Berezina, had told 
Tschikagow that we would debouch below Borisow. 
Napoleon, availing himself of this circumstance, and 
also of the arrival at Weselowo of the Duke of Belluno, 
put himself at the head of his Guard at about two in the 
afternoon, in order to make his way through the immense 
crowd that was pressing towards the river. The army 
also passed, although slowly, owing to the frequent 
necessity of repairing the bridges. 

The Viceroy, who had been throughout the day with 
the Emperor, told his staff that the troops of the fourth 
corps would cross the river at eight in the evening. 
Many, however, could not tear themselves away from 
the fires they had lighted, arguing that it was just as 
well to wait until next day, when the bridges would 
be clearer of people. This vicious argument prevailed 
with so great a number that only the Prince's household 
and some of the staff officers actually crossed the river 
at the appointed hour. 

In point of fact, only a true sense of the danger of 
remaining on the left bank could have induced any one 
to cross to the right. The Viceroy and his suite were 
obliged to encamp on marshy ground, and sought out 
the most frozen places in order to avoid being engulfed 
in the bog. The darkness was horrible ; the wind, 
bitter and blowing with violence, drove against our faces 
great flakes of icy snow. Most of the officers, to avoid 
being frost-bitten, raced or walked rapidly to and fro, 
stamping their feet. As the climax of misfortune, 


The Berezina 

firewood was so scarce that a fire could hardly be made 
for the Viceroy, and to obtain some faggots it was 
necessary to remind the Bavarian soldiers that Prince 
Eugene had married the daughter of their King ! 

iZth November. — Napoleon having gone towards 
Zembin, left behind him this immense crowd, which, 
placed upon the other bank of the Berezina, bore an 
appalling resemblance to the unhappy shades who, 
according to the myth, wander on the shores of the 
Styx, waiting to cross the fatal ferry. The snow fell 
in huge flakes ; the hills and forests only appeared as 
great white masses looming through the misty atmo- 
sphere; nothing could be seen distinctly except the 
dreadful half-frozen river, rolling its turbulent waters 
like a great black serpent through the midst of the 
snow-clad plain. 

Although there were two bridges, one for the vehicles 
and the other for the infantry, the crowd was so great 
and the approaches were so dangerous, that on reaching 
the river the multitude got wedged into a mass, unable 
to move. In spite of these difficulties, however, those 
on foot managed, by great exertions, to save themselves ; 
but towards eight in the morning the bridge reserved 
for the vehicles having broken down, the baggage train 
and artillery advanced towards the other and attempted 
to force their way across. A frightful struggle im- 
mediately took place between the infantry and horsemen. 
Many perished by mutual slaughter; a greater number 
still were suffocated towards the entrance to the bridge, 
and the bodies of men and horses blocked the approaches 
to such an extent that in order to reach the river it was 
necessary to climb over the corpses of those who had been 
crushed. Some there were who still breathed, and who, 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

struggling against the horrors of death, endeavoured to 
raise themselves by seizing those who were trampling on 
them. While this appalling struggle was in progress, the 
multitude which followed, like an angry sea, continually 
engulfed fresh victims. 



Action of Weselowo — The French are surrounded and compelled to 
surrender — The French abandon the heights above the Berezina — The 
Russians drive the French across the river — Horrible scenes of carnage. 

THE Duke of Belluno, who was still on the left bank, 
took up a position on the heights of Weselowo, 
with the two divisions of Girard and Daendels to cover 
the passage, and protect it amidst this frightful confusion, 
against Wittgenstein's corps, the advance-guard of 
which had appeared the previous evening. General 
Partouneaux, after having repulsed the attacks of Platow 
and Tschikagow, left Borisow at three in the afternoon 
with the third brigade to oppose the Russians, who 
were advancing in columns. Informed that he would 
have to deal with considerable forces, he recalled the 
first and second brigades which had remained at Borisow, 
commanded by Generals Blamont and Lecamus. On 
arriving at Staroi-Borisow, instead of taking the road to 
Weselowo, he took that of Studentzy. This mistake took 
the division right into the middle of Wittgenstein's corps. 
Although it only numbered three thousand men, it 
attempted to cut its way out, and during the whole 
evening sustained a combat which lasted more than four 
hours, and in which Generals Blamont and Delaitre 
were wounded. In the midst of the snow and in terrible 
weather, our troops formed squares, remained on foot 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

throughout the whole night without anything to eat, 
and refrained even from lighting fires so as not to reveal 
their position. This dreadful situation lasted until the 
morrow, when the division found itself completely 
surrounded by the whole of Wittgenstein's corps, number- 
ing some forty-five thousand men. Despairing then of 
escape, it surrendered, having no longer more than twelve 
hundred men, and two weak squadrons of cavalry, to 
such an extent had the horrors of famine, the severity 
of the cold, and the fire of the enemy diminished the 
number of these veterans who, in their misfortunes, 
proved that French soldiers, even in defeat, know how 
to cover themselves with glory. 

Borisow having been evacuated, the three Russian 
armies effected their junction, and the same day (28th 
November) towards eight in the morning, the Duke of 
Belluno was attacked on the left bank by Wittgenstein, at 
the same time that the Duke of Reggio was attacked on 
the right by Tschikagow, who united all his forces and 
fell upon us at a short distance from the bridges of 
Weselowo. All that remained to us of effectives there- 
upon rushed to arms ; the fight was beginning with great 
fury, when the Duke of Reggio, who seemed destined 
never to win a victory except at the cost of his own blood, 
was wounded and had to quit the field, leaving the 
command to the Duke of Elchingen. 

That marshal having reanimated his troops, the action 
against the army of Moldavia was renewed with redoubled 
ardour. Doumerc's cuirassiers delivered a brilliant charge 
at the moment when Claparède, at the head of the legion 
of the Vistula, was endeavouring to pierce the enemy's 
centre. These brave cuirassiers, although worn out by 
fatigue and privations of all sorts, performed prodigies of 


The Berezina 

valour, broke the squares, and took several guns, and three 
or four thousand prisoners whom we were unable to keep ; 
for in our cruel situation we no longer fought for victory, 
but solely for our own existence and the honour of our 

In spite of the courage of our soldiers and the efforts 
of our leaders, the union of the Russian armies pressed 
heavily on the ninth corps, which formed our rear-guard. 
Already we heard the thunder of cannon, and it dismayed 
every heart. It gradually drew nearer, and soon we saw 
on the neighbouring hills the fire of the enemy's batteries. 
There could no longer be any doubt that the ground 
occupied by so many thousands of men, either unarmed 
or sick and wounded, besides women and children, could 
not possibly become a battlefield. 

The position occupied by the Duke of Belluno to 
oppose the progress of Wittgenstein was not at all 
favourable; for although its right rested on the river, 
its left could not be extended far enough to secure the 
protection of a wood in that direction. In order to link 
it with that wood a brigade of cavalry was posted in the 
gap under the command of Count Fournier, who delivered 
two brilliant charges, which checked Wittgenstein's corps, 
while a battery of the Guard protected the right of the 
Duke of Belluno. Even the heroic valour of these troops 
was obliged to yield, however, to superior numbers, and 
the ninth corps, overwhelmed by such a concentration of 
forces, found itself compelled to abandon its position. 

During the heat of the combat several of the enemy's 
cannon-balls passed over the heads of the unfortunate 
crowd which for three days had been huddled around the 
bridges across the Berezina ; and some shells even burst 
in their midst. Terror and despair then seized every 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

heart ; the instinct of self-preservation became uncontrol- 
lable ; those women and children who had survived such 
incredible sufferings seemed only to have been reserved for 
a more horrible death. Many rushed from their carriages 
and screamed to be taken to the other side of the river 
The sick and wounded, propped up against the trunks of 
trees or supported by crutches, sought in vain for help ! 
In this dire emergency pity was dead in every heart ; each 
thought only of himself. 

At last the Russians, continually reinforced by fresh 
troops, advanced en masse, and drove before them the 
Polish division of General Girard, who up to then had 
kept them in check. At the sight of the enemy, those 
who had not yet passed, mixing themselves with the 
Poles, rushed towards the bridge. The artillery, the 
Da gg a ge train, the cavalry, the infantry — each struggled 
to get over first. The stronger threw into the water the 
weaker who impeded their progress, and trampled over 
the bodies of the sick and wounded. Several hundred 
men were mangled out of recognition under the wheels of 
the guns; others, hoping to find safety by swimming, 
were frozen to death in the river, or perished by trying to 
cross on pieces of floating ice, which sank from under 
them. Thousands and thousands of victims, having lost 
all hope, threw themselves pell-mell into the Berezina, 
where almost all perished miserably. 

Girard's division, by sheer physical force, succeeded in 
overcoming the obstacles in their way, and by clambering 
over the mountain of corpses, reached the other side, 
where the Russians would probably have followed them 
had not the bridge at that moment been set on fire. 

The miserable wretches left upon the Berezina had 
now an even more horrible fate in front of them. To 


The Berezina 

avoid it, some endeavoured to cross the flaming bridge ; 
but when half-way over drowned themselves to escape 
being burnt to death. At length the Russians, having 
possessed themselves of the battlefield, our troops retired, 
the passage of the river ceased, and to the frightful din 
succeeded a silence as of death. 

On our march to Zembin we reascended the right 
bank of the Berezina, from which could be distinctly seen 
all that was passing upon the other side. The cold was 
excessive, and the whistling of the wind in the distant 
forests was frightful. At the close of day the darkness 
was only lit up by the innumerable fires of the enemy 
along the neighbouring hills. At the foot of these heights 
we heard the dying groans of our comrades, and no 
imagination is vivid enough to realise the miseries they 
endured on this terrible night. The elements appeared 
to have conspired to add to its horror. Victors and 
vanquished both suffered, but at all events the Russians 
had fire and shelter, while we lay without light and with- 
out covering. 

More than twenty thousand sick and wounded soldiers 
or servants fell into the enemy's hands. Two hundred guns 
were abandoned ; and all the baggage of the two corps 
shared the same fate. 




Extraordinary rapidity of Napoleon's downfall — The miseries of the retreat 
increase — Frightful cold — Napoleon's narrow escape — The swamps of 
Lithuania again — Napoleon meditates flight — His furtive departure — 
Consternation of army — The soldiers' frank expressions on hearing that 
their leader has deserted them — Murat takes the supreme command. 


IN the fatal passage of the Berezina we appeared to 
have reached the nadir of our misfortunes. The 
reserve corps, which had alone escaped the horrors of 
the retreat from Moscow, had now been reduced to the 
same appalling condition as the rest of the army. The 
cup of bitterness therefore seemed to have been drunk to 
the dregs, and destiny accomplished. Our leader alone 
appeared to have been reserved by the Almighty for that 
most dreadful of punishments, the remorse and despair 
felt by the wicked at the remembrance of their misdeeds. 

But what torture for this conqueror, to lose his con- 
quests even more rapidly than he had achieved them ! 
To find himself crowned not with laurels but with 
cypress; to have for incense the smoke of burning 
villages ; and to grace his triumph only twenty thousand 
disarmed soldiers, ragged and unshod ; their feet encased 
in boots made out of old hats, and their shoulders covered 
with odds and ends of sacks, capes, and even the raw skins 
of horses. Such were the miserable remnants of four 


The Niémen 

hundred thousand warriors who, had it not been for the 
unbridled ambition of one man, would have lived to be an 
honour to France and the dread of her enemies. 

29th November. — The continually increasing severity 
of the winter greatly intensified our disorder and made 
our losses simply incalculable. The second and ninth 
corps followed the general example; and at last the 
rear-guard was reduced to less than three thousand men, 
of which the Duke of Elchingen took command. We 
arrived pretty early at the town of Kamen, and were 
continuing thence towards Plescenkovice, in accordance 
with our instructions, when Captain Colaud, who had 
been ahead, returned and told us that Cossacks to the 
number of two thousand had entered the town with their 
usual " Hourra ! " massacring every one they found in the 
streets. " The Duke of Reggio," he added, " who had 
been wounded the previous evening, had just arrived. 
Fortunately, several officers having offered him their 
services and expressed their readiness to die at his side, 
they managed to deceive the Cossacks into the belief that 
a trap had been laid for them. The Tartars therefore 
retired to the top of a neighbouring hill, and bombarded 
the town where the Marshal was staying, with a view to 
forcing him to capitulate. By the strange fatality which 
seems to dog the footsteps of the Duke of Reggio, one of 
their shots smashed a beam, and a splinter wounded him 
while he lay in his bed." 

This news determined us to remain in Kamen. Next 
day (30th November) we left before daybreak, and in 
passing through Plescenkovice we received confirmation 
of what we had already heard. On seeing the house in 
which the Duke of Reggio had lodged, we were astonished 
that two thousand Cossacks had not had the pluck to 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

take by force a marshal who had had only some twenty 
wounded officers to guard him. Napoleon stopped in 
this town, but the Viceroy, continuing his march, camped 
in a deserted village which we believed to be Niestano- 
vitschi, near Zavichino. 

1st December. — On the following day, towards seven 
in the morning, Prince Eugene, followed by a few officers, 
placed himself at the head of some grenadiers of the 
Royal Guard, who still remained faithful to their flag. 
After a march which for worn-out men was very long, we 
arrived at the town of Iliia. The Jews, who formed the 
majority of the population, had not fled from their homes, 
and their greed for gain induced them to unearth the 
provisions which their first instinct had led them to 
conceal. We paid them handsomely, for in our situation 
the vilest stuff was preferable to gold. But for these 
supplies we should have lost the brave and estimable 
Colonel Durieu, our chief of the staff, whose health had 
undergone a terrible alteration, less owing to his sufferings 
than to the indefatigable zeal with which he devoted 
himself to his duties. 

2nd December. — On the morrow we proceeded to 
Molodetschino and the march was still longer and more 
demoralising. For twelve hours, without a single halt, 
owing to the frightful cold, we had to march through an 
immense forest. The only comfort we had was the 
knowledge that the Cossacks would not worry us upon 
our right. Captain Jonaud, who had been sent to General 
de Wrede at Vileika, assured us that the Bavarians, 
although hard pressed by Stengel's corps, still held that 
important position. 

We were indeed in the most pitiable plight when we 

arrived at Molodetschino. Fortunately the houses were 


The Niémen 

good, and some of the owners still being there, we were 
able to procure the means of subsistence. Next morning, 
Napoleon's carriages started, but had hardly got clear 
of the village, when a swarm of Cossacks appeared to 
attack them, and they would have been captured had 
they not been rushed back into the village and placed 
under the protection of some still-armed troops. The 
Viceroy was preparing to leave, when he was informed 
that we were to stay at Molodetschina, but that he would 
have to turn out of the château where he was lodging to 
make room for Napoleon. 

This rest was all the more welcome as it enabled us to 
improve the occasion by hunting up some food. In spite 
of that, however, a considerable number of soldiers expired 
in the streets, while in the houses where the officers were 
lodged, things were almost as bad. One poor fellow was 
so worn out with marching that he protested he could go 
no farther ; another was suffering from frost-bitten feet, 
and having no horse, was compelled to remain in the 
hands of the Russians. The generals were exposed 
to the same dreadful fate, for many of them having 
lost their servants and carriages could find nothing 
to replace them, and if in such circumstances they were 
overtaken by the slightest illness, all hope of saving their 
lives was at an end. 

\th November. — On leaving this village we did not 
follow the high road which goes direct to Smorghoni via 
Zachkevitschi. We marched to the left of that road 
(which was anything but safe), and took one which makes 
a détour through Lebioda to Markovo. We halted in this 
village with a few soldiers of the first corps, while the 
Emperor and his Guard were at Bienitsa, about half a 
league away. On leaving for Smorghoni (5th December) 
S 273 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

we marched continually through marshy swamps, which 
would have been utterly impassable except for the frost ; 
proving how well Nature has protected this country, for 
had we not experienced the terrible rigours of winter, the 
bogs of Lithuania would have engulfed us in a common 
tomb. When we reached Smorghoni, we found none of 
the supplies we had been led to expect ; every house was 
full of the sick, and most of the Jews had fled. Our only 
comfort was to find in the stores some barrels of biscuits, 
the contents of which we promptly devoured. 

By this time Napoleon was thoroughly terrified at the 
extent of our disasters, but what alarmed him far more 
was the prospect of the loss of his power and prestige in 
France. He therefore began to turn over in his mind the 
desirability of deserting the miserable wreckage of his 
army, so that he might hasten to his obsequious Senate 
in order to obtain from it another. 

Full of this resolution, on arriving at Smorghoni he 
satisfied himself, in the first place, that the route was open 
to the Niémen, and then summoned a meeting of the 
leaders of the various corps. He next had a private 
consultation with the Viceroy, at the close of which 
Napoleon issued from his cabinet followed by the Grand 
Equerry, the Marshal of the Palace, Count Lobau and 
General Lefèbvre-Désnouettes. In passing through one 
of the ante-chambers, he met the King of Naples and 
said to him with much gaiety, " À vous, roi de Naples ! " 
With these words he departed, accompanied by four of 
his suite, who were to be his fellow-travellers. Having 
got into his carriage, he selected the Count de Lobau 
and General Lefèbvre to remain with him. The Grand 
Equerry and the Marshal of the Palace entered a second 
carriage, and both took the road to Wilna. No address 


The Niémen 

to the army, no words of comfort to the Lithuanians, 
were issued to calm the anxiety of the former at having 
no longer a leader, and of the latter at seeing themselves 
deserted by the man who had promised them so much. 

The King of Naples took command of the army, but 
it marched in such disorder and precipitation that it was 
only at Wilna that the soldiers were informed of a flight 
as discouraging as it was unexpected. " What ! " said 
they one to another, " is it thus that he forsakes those of 
whom he used to say he was the father? What has 
become of the genius who at the height of his prosperity 
exhorted us to bear our sufferings with patience? Is he, 
who so freely poured out our blood, afraid to die with us? 
Is he going to treat us as he treated the army of Egypt, 
which, after having served him with such devotion, 
became a matter of indifference to him the moment he 
was out of the country? " Such were the opinions which 
passed current among the soldiers, who accompanied them 
with all the most vigorous epithets our copious language 
can supply ; and verily never was indignation more justifi- 
able, for never had men been more basely betrayed. 



General demoralisation caused by Napoleon's flight — The Neapolitans de- 
stroyed by the cold — Shocking brutality of the soldiers to each other — 
The appalling cold and its effects — Cannibalism — Hopes centred in 
Wilna — Found to be another Smolensk — Panic in Wilna — Murat seeks 
safety in flight — General looting. 

THE presence of the Emperor had kept the leaders 
of the army up to the mark. Immediately his 
flight was known, the majority, debauched by his example, 
threw to the winds all honour and sense of shame, and 
callously deserted the remains of the regiments confided 
to them. Up to that time there were to be seen oc- 
casional parties of armed soldiers, who, with their officers 
at their head, marched beneath the flag which they had 
sworn to defend. But as soon as they found themselves 
without leaders, and when unheard-of calamities had 
reduced their numbers to vanishing point, these veterans 
were reluctantly compelled to hide their eagles in their 
knapsacks. Several of these brave men when they felt 
death approaching, knowing that the honour of the French 
soldier depends on preserving his flag, dug with feeble 
hands a last resting-place for this hallowed emblem, to 
preserve it from the desecrating touch of the Russians. 

Loison's division, and the Neapolitans who had come 
from Wilna to secure a passage for Napoleon, had been 
obliged to encamp in a temperature of twenty-two degrees 
of frost, and were totally destroyed. Out of six thousand 


The Niémen 

men, there were now only to be seen through the thick fog a 
few feeble battalions, who ran about like madmen, stamp- 
ing the iron earth with their feet to ward off the attacks of 
a cold so frightful that the unfortunate sick, in satisfying 
the calls of Nature, lost the use of their hands and fell 
stone dead by the roadside, before they had time to re- 
adjust their clothes. Even those who were in good health, 
although they could by continual marching prolong their 
sufferings, could always end them at any moment simply 
by standing still. 

On the road we were following could be seen almost 
at each step gallant officers clothed in rags, leaning 
heavily on staffs of pine, their hair and beards bristling 
with icicles. These same warriors, once the terror of our 
enemies, and the conquerors of two-thirds of Europe, 
having entirely lost their dignity of demeanour, dragged 
themselves along with faltering steps, and without obtain- 
ing so much as one glance of pity from the soldiers who 
once obeyed them. The horror of the situation was 
intensified by the fact that whoever lacked strength to 
march was abandoned, and to be abandoned meant 
certain death within an hour. Every bivouac bore the 
appearance next day of a battlefield. Whenever a soldier 
succumbed, his nearest comrade pounced on him even 
before the breath was out of his body, and stripped him 
of his clothes to wear them himself. At each moment 
could be heard t one or another of these poor famished 
wretches appealing for help. " Comrades," would cry one 
of them in heart-rending tone, " help me to get up ; for 
God's sake lend me a hand to enable me to continue the 
march." But each passed on without so much as glancing 
at him. "Ah! I beseech you by all that you hold most 
dear not to abandon me to the enemy. In the name of 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

humanity give me the trifling aid I require ; help me to 
get up." But those who were passing, far from being 
touched, looked upon the man as already dead, and 
anticipating his end, threw themselves upon him to strip 
him. " Help, help ! they are killing me. Why are you 
trampling on me? Why are you stealing the money and 
bread I have left? You are even stripping me of my 
clothes ! " And if some officer, less callous than the rest, 
did not happen to come up in time to rescue him, he was 
certain to be murdered by his own comrades. 

yth December. — We reached Joupranoui a little before 
nightfall. Utterly worn out, we were compelled to rest 
there, but the houses open to the sky afforded us no 
shelter against the fearful cold, and we left very early 
(8th December), reaching Ochmiana at about eleven. 
The winter was so terrific that to prevent themselves being 
frozen to death, the soldiers set complete houses on fire, 
around which could be seen the half-consumed bodies of 
those who, having gone too near for the purpose of warm- 
ing themselves, and being too weak to get away, had 
become the prey of the flames. There were also to be 
seen poor wretches blackened with smoke, and stained 
with the blood of the horses they had been devouring, 
flitting like spectres around these burning houses. They 
stared vacantly at the bodies of their companions, and 
then falling heavily to the ground, perished in the same 

We counted on stopping in this town to receive rations, 
but learnt that the stores had been looted by the Cossacks, 
and that on the previous evening Napoleon had arrived 
only half an hour after they had disappeared. We there- 
fore continued our course, still in the most fearful weather ; 
and marching amidst the dead and dying, we at last 


The Niémen 

arrived at the stone-built Château of Rovno-Polé, where 
the Prince and his staff passed a most distressing night. 
Misfortune having brought every one down to one common 
level, attempts to assert authority were treated with 
contempt. The Colonel found himself compelled to beg 
for a morsel of bread from any of his men who happened 
to have some. The lowest menial, if he was possessed of 
food, was immediately surrounded by a crowd of courtiers, 
who were driven by hunger to resort to the most abject 
devices to gain his favour. To realise the frightful dis- 
order to which famine and cold had brought us, imagine 
the forty thousand men 1 who still remained, marching 
promiscuously irrespective of rank, without the slightest 
order or discipline, ignorant as to where they were going, 
and halting when fatigue or caprice prompted. The 
leaders, accustomed to command, and unable to forage for 
themselves, were the worst off. Soldiers avoided them so 
as to escape having to render them services, for to give 
any one a glass of water or offer a hand to raise one who 
had fallen was at that time an event that excited wonder. 
The road was covered with soldiers who had lost the 
form of humanity, and whom the enemy disdained to 
make prisoners. Each day these poor creatures were 
actors in scenes which it is harrowing to relate. Some 
had lost all sense of hearing, others the power of speech, 
and many, owing to the frightful cold or to hunger, were 
reduced to such a condition of brutish ferocity as to roast 
the dead bodies and devour them, or to gnaw off the arms 
and hands. Some there were so weak that they were 
unable to carry a log or roll a stone, but sat down upon 

1 This number may appear large in view of the enormous losses we were 
daily suffering. But it must be remembered that Loison's division, the 
garrison of Wilna, and those of all the towns of Lithuania had joined the 
débris of the army in its retreat. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

the corpses of their comrades, and with vacant faces stared 
into the camp fires ; ere long the fire would begin to die 
out, when those livid corpses, not having strength to rise, 
would fall dead beside the bodies upon which they had 
been resting. Others were to be seen, driven mad by 
suffering, who to warm themselves came and placed their 
naked feet in the middle of the fire. Some, with a blood- 
curdling laugh, threw themselves into the midst of the 
flames and perished, uttering the most frightful screams, 
and amidst the most horrible contortions ; while others in 
the same condition of raving madness followed them, and 
met with the like appalling death. 

We were in this state morally and physically, when we 
arrived at the village of Roukoni, of which there only 
remained a few miserable hovels filled with corpses. 
Being now only three leagues from Wilna, many of us 
continued their march to get first to that town, where 
they hoped not only to find food, but to remain there for 
some days and enjoy the sweets of repose, of which we 
were in such urgent need. The fourth corps, however, 
of which only a hundred and fifty men now answered to 
the roll-call, stopped in this miserable village. At day- 
break (9th December) all haste was made to get out of 
Roukoni, where cold and smoke prevented us from getting 
a wink of sleep. On leaving, the Bavarians under General 
de Wrede, composing the rear-guard, rejoined us from 
Wileika, crying that the enemy were at their heels. The 
previous evening a report had been current that they had 
had a success, but the confusion in which they arrived 
emphatically gave the lie to the rumour. Apart from 
that, however, it is only just to say that they still possessed 
a few guns, but the horses were so weak that they could 

no longer draw them. 


The Niémen 

Each successive day brought a renewal of the dreadful 
scenes of which I have only been able to give a faint idea. 
Our hearts grew so callous that these terrible tragedies 
ceased to affect us, and a brutal selfishness reigned supreme 
in the state of abasement to which we had been reduced. 
Our whole thoughts were now centred on Wilna, and the 
idea that we should there find relief from our awful priva- 
tions filled all who were able to continue the march with 
such transports of joy, that they were utterly indifferent to 
the sad fate of those who felt themselves unable to proceed 
another step forward. And yet Wilna, the object of our 
fondest hopes, towards which we hurried with such eager- 
ness, was destined to be for us another Smolensk ! 

At last we arrived at the outskirts of this longed-for town. 
But imagine our bitter disappointment when we found 
the large suburb obstructed by a vast crowd of vehicles, 
men and horses. The confusion was so terrible that it 
reminded me of the passage of the Berezina. Our faculties 
were so dulled by suffering that, accustomed as we were to 
follow mechanically the column to which we belonged, we 
dared not separate ourselves from it, for fear of being lost. 
The consequence of this was that while the multitude 
were jostling each other in their frantic efforts to get 
through the same gate, there were other gates to left and 
right which were available, both for ingress and egress, 
but which were entirely overlooked. Having at last, after 
a long and arduous struggle, managed to get into the 
town, we found it a perfect pandemonium. Soldiers were 
rushing about in all directions trying to find their 
appointed quarters. Those assigned to the fourth corps 
were at the Convent of St. Raphael, on the opposite side 
of the Wilia, but before taking up their quarters the 
starving soldiers ranged through the town in search of 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

food, going from house to house demanding bread. The 
shops, the inns, and the cafes being unable to satisfy the 
enormous mob of customers, promptly put up their 
shutters. But goaded by hunger and resolved not to 
starve to death, we smashed in the doors, while others, 
money in hand, chased after the Jews, who, in spite of our 
generosity, found it impossible to meet the full extent of 
our needs. 

At Wilna, we learnt that Napoleon had passed through 
the town incognito, having for escort only a small detach- 
ment of three entire regiments of Neapolitan cavalry, 
which had been sent on in front of him to assure his 
escape. These unhappy southerners were half dead when 
they arrived at Wilna, and hardly had they left the town 
when about a third of them had to return with their feet, 
hands and noses frost-bitten. The flight of Napoleon in 
such circumstances spread consternation among the 
Lithuanians, who were devoted to us, and greatly dis- 
couraged the French. The former bewailed their cruel 
fate in finding themselves abandoned to the vengeance of 
their savage masters, while the latter were alarmed for 
their own safety, as in our critical situation we looked 
upon the desertion of our leader as sealing our doom. 
There were some, however, who, anxious to make the best 
of things, argued that this occurrence would redound to 
our advantage. " Napoleon, once in Paris," said they, " will 
promptly organise another great army, reassure the anxious 
country, and by fear secure the fidelity of our allies, whose 
defection would be disastrous." 

Towards three in the afternoon, the rear of our long 
column had only just gained the suburbs, when a report 
was spread that the Cossacks had taken possession of the 
heights commanding the town. Immediately afterwards 


The Niémen 

we heard gun-fire, and at this sound the fresh troops in 
Wilna beat the générale, and sounded trumpets. In a 
moment the place was bristling with arms ; but it was a 
strange irony of fate that the colossal power of Napoleon 
was now reduced in this iron-bound climate to the remains 
of one Neapolitan division, composed of the garrisons of 
Taranto and Capua. These troops having been quickly 
dispersed, a general panic ensued at the one word 
" Cossacks," and the majority of the soldiers, demoralised 
by suffering, rushed from their quarters and took to flight. 
The King of Naples, throwing his dignity to the winds, 
bolted from his palace and, followed by his officers, fled 
on foot through the mob to establish himself outside the 
town on the road to Kowno. 

While some of the men flew to arms, others, when 
night approached, availed themselves of the evacuation of 
the stores to carry off every movable they contained ; but 
the majority, only desiring to allay the pangs of hunger, 
went hammering at every door and carried the terror 
of universal pillage into the hearts of the wretched 



Wilna evacuated — Night marches — Looting the Imperial Treasury — Retri- 
butive justice — French soldiers to rebuild Moscow — Hard but inevitable 
fate of the common soldier in war — Arrival at Kowno — Scenes of 
drunkenness and disorder — March on the Niémen — The river is crossed 
— Dispersal of the army — The remains of the fourth corps — Conclusion. 

WE were now reluctantly driven to the conclusion 
that it was hopeless to remain in Wilna ; and as 
our feeble remnant could no longer contend with the 
enemy, it was necessary to take advantage of the darkness 
of night to get away from so dangerous a position. It 
was therefore decided to evacuate the town at about 
eleven o'clock ; at which hour we started in absolute 
silence, leaving the streets covered with drunken, sleeping 
or dead soldiers. The courts, landings and stairs of the 
houses were full of them, and not one even condescended 
to notice the commands of the officers. At last, having 
got clear of the town with as much difficulty as we had 
experienced in getting into it, the Prince and his staff 
visited the King of Naples, with whom all the officers 
remained closeted until one in the morning. In the midst 
of a pitch-black night we plodded along the Kowno road, 
but the snow which covered the country caused us fre- 
quently to lose our way, and we were for some time 
unable to determine our whereabouts ; for the Poles in 
going to New-Troki had trampled out a new road which 
was very misleading. Two hours afterwards we reached 


The Niémen 

the foot of a small mountain, which was inaccessible, 
owing to the steepness of the ascent and the sheet of ice 
with which it was covered. All around were the remains 
of Napoleon's escort, the baggage, the army chest, and the 
waggons containing the sinister trophies brought from 
Moscow. We knew then only too well that we were on 
the road to Kowno. 

We were groping round the base of this mountain 
without being able to get over it, and all the time heard 
the fusillade between the Cossacks and the skirmishers of 
the 29th Chasseurs, who had only just joined the army 
and who in this critical moment well sustained their 
reputation. In the spirit of querulous discontent which 
misfortune always engenders, there were universal 
grumblings among the men that we had not taken the 
road by New-Troki, so as to avoid this fatal hill. Those 
who found themselves stopped by it were for the most 
part sick or wounded, and were practically delivered into 
the hands of the enemy. To meet this fate after having 
come through the terrors of Krasnoë and the Berezina 
added to the bitterness of their anguish, which deepened 
to despair when they reflected that the Cossacks had 
passed Wilna, were pursuing our rear-guard and advancing 
towards us. Nevertheless, there was no alternative but 
to remain where we were until daylight, when we could 
ascertain if there were any way of getting round the 
mountain instead of over it. We lit a fire and all 
anxiously awaited the return of day. 

It was all in vain, however. We had examined every 
point, but the ascent was so slippery and the horses so 
tired that we despaired of proceeding. We then con- 
ceived the idea of employing the soldiers of the escort to 
carry off the money belonging to the Imperial Treasury. 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

As it amounted to about five millions, mostly in crowns, this 
involved the employment of such an enormous number of 
men that it was impossible to look after them properly, 
with the natural result that each man helped himself 
liberally to the spoil. The standards taken from the 
enemy, which in our debased condition had ceased to 
interest us, were perforce left at the foot of the mountain, 
as was also the famous cross of St. Ivan. 

Many who came up later joined in this looting, and it 
was a most grotesque spectacle to see men dying of 
hunger weighed down with riches they could hardly 
carry. There was, however, a general preference for the 
food found in the carriages over the money they con- 
tained. Scattered around in every direction were trunks 
broken open, portmanteaux half torn asunder, magnificent 
court dresses and rich furs adorning the persons of the 
most hideous and repulsive soldiers, who, loaded down 
with booty, were offering to exchange sixty francs for one 
louis. There were some who gave ten crowns for a glass 
of brandy ; and I myself saw one man offer a cask full of 
money for a few gold pieces. 

It is quite impossible to convey an adequate idea of 

the demoralisation of our army. Far from being braced 

by the presence of some battalions which had recently 

arrived from Prussia, the terror with which it was saturated 

was communicated to the newcomers, who, yielding to the 

effects of the frightful cold, threw away their arms and 

joined the crowd of stragglers. Finally, our soldiers, 

transformed into Cheap-Jacks, thought only of selling the 

property stolen along the road, and from morning to night 

there was one perpetual round of bargaining and bartering. 

The talk on all sides was of ingots and jewellery ; every 

soldier staggered under a weight of money, but not one 


The Niémen 

had a musket. After that the terror inspired by the 
Cossacks is not a matter for surprise. 

It was in this state of demoralisation that after fifteen 
hours of a most trying march we arrived at Eve, about 
ten leagues from Wilna. Great hardships were also 
suffered by the superior officers. The Prince of Eckmuhl 
prostrated by fever, was obliged to travel in a sledge. 
Generals Lariboissière, Eblé, Laboussaye and others 
suffered the most cruel torments. Great anxiety was 
felt for the fate of several sick officers who had remained 
in the sledges of the Viceroy, but that evening we learnt 
that they had avoided the Wilna mountain by going via 
New-Troki, and that only the length of the road had 
obliged them to halt before arriving at Eve. 

nth December. — On leaving that village we heard 
from those who had last come from Wilna, that the 
Russians had arrived there at dawn. A crowd of 
generals, colonels and other officers, and more than 
twelve thousand of the rank and file, fell into their hands. 
The officers had been well treated, but all the soldiers and 
servants were ordered off to Moscow, where it was said 
they were to be employed in rebuilding the city. These 
poor wretches, stretched about the streets and public 
places, without fire and food, and most of them sick or 
wounded, presented so afflicting a spectacle that the 
enemy did their utmost to soften their miserable fate. It 
is sad to think that many who managed to drag them- 
selves from Moscow to Wilna gave up the struggle when 
only a few leagues more would have brought them to 
safety. We also learnt that the Jews had basely mur- 
dered a large number of our soldiers, particularly those of 
the Imperial Guard, desiring thus to avenge the ill-treat- 
ment they had received. The Emperor Alexander, moved 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

by that sense of justice which distinguished him, had 
many of these Jews hanged, to teach their people not to 
interfere in the quarrels of sovereigns. 

Our long column plodded wearily on, continually 
leaving behind it a line of the dead or dying. Its rear 
continued to be followed by a cloud of Cossacks, who 
stripped the stragglers and then turned them over to the 
peasants, who took them to the rear after subjecting them 
to a thousand ignominies. At last, the Tartars, getting 
tired of taking prisoners, set free all the soldiers of the 
Confederation of the Rhine, only keeping officers of dis- 
tinction. But when they captured a Frenchman, how- 
ever miserable his condition was, they stripped him, 
accompanying the operation with the most inhuman jests. 
If he was still able to march with them up to the evening, 
they ordered him to fetch wood or water, and then 
brutally drove him away from the fire which he himself 
had lighted — an example of the awful fate of the common 
soldier who, forced into war, is always the victim of the 
calamities engendered by the quarrels of kings, without 
deriving one single advantage from them. 

Before arriving at Zismori, we heard in our rear the 
sound of a cannonade, and at no great distance either, 
which made us suppose that our feeble rear-guard was 
being relentlessly pursued. In spite of this, however, 
some of us were so utterly played out that they preferred 
rest to safety and stopped at Zismori ; but the Viceroy 
pressed on to the village of Rounchichki. 

\2th December. — Worn out with one of the longest 
and most tiring marches we had yet gone through, we at 
last arrived at Kowno, where all the fragments of each 
corps were united. As usual, they camped in the streets, 
and as it was common knowledge that our deplorable 


The Niémen 

condition would not permit us to remain long in any one 
place, the stores, which were amply supplied, were given 
over to pillage. In an instant clothes, flour and rum were 
looted on all sides. The principal quarters were filled 
with broken barrels, and the liquor formed a small lake 
in the centre of the chief square. The soldiers who had 
for so long been deprived of this luxury, now gave them- 
selves over to excess, and abused the opportunity to such 
an extent that more than twelve hundred of them got 
dead drunk, and falling senseless on the snow, rapidly 
passed from sleep into death. 

In the evening we were instructed to take the road to 
Tilsit, and as many of us, in order to avoid confusion, were 
in the habit of halting for the night one or two leagues 
ahead of the general quarters, it followed on this occasion 
that a large number proceeded towards that town. In 
the middle of the night the chief of the staff arrived to 
find the whole of the fourth corps assembled in one room. 
He informed us that the order had been revoked, and 
that it was to Gumbinnen and not to Tilsit that we must 
direct our steps. These conflicting instructions completed 
our ruin ; and thenceforth our corps only existed in the 
household of the Prince, and in the persons of eight to ten 
officers of the staft. 

\^th December. — On the following day we found the 
same tumult in the outskirts of Kowno that had prevailed 
at the gate of Wilna. The crowd was struggling to cross 
the bridge, while the Niémen was frozen so hard that it 
would have borne the weight of artillery had we had any. 
In Kowno and its neighbourhood we saw large numbers 
of unfortunates stretched out on the snow who had broken 
down just as they had reached the end of our fatal 
expedition. Poor Colonel Vidman's death particularly 
T 289 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

affected us. He was one of the small number of the 
Italian Guard of Honour who had survived up to then. 
Feeling unable to go a step farther, he fell while leaving 
Kowno to reach the bridge, and expired without having 
had the satisfaction of dying beyond the Russian frontier. 
The calamities which had overwhelmed the army had 
by no means spared the Imperial Guard, and every day 
several of these soldiers perished, like the others, of hunger, 
cold or fatigue. I saw one who was indeed worthy of 
admiration. He was an old grenadier ; stretched out on 
the bridge of Kowno, the passing throng showed marked 
respect for his uniform, his decoration and particularly for 
his three stripes. This veteran, with dry eyes calmly 
awaited death, and disdained to resort like so many 
others to useless entreaties. By chance, there happened 
to come up one or two men of his own regiment. He 
then made a final effort to rise; but the attempt was vain, 
and feeling death approaching he summoned all his re- 
maining strength, and in faltering accents said to one of 
these friends, "Thine efforts are useless, my friend; the 
only favour I ask of thee is to prevent the enemy from 
profaning the marks of honour which I gained in fighting 
them. Take to my Captain this decoration which was 
presented to me on the field of Austerlitz ; take him also 
my sabre, which I used at Friedland." His comrade 
obeyed him, and taking the sabre and the cross, rejoined 
the old Guard, of which there were only about three 
hundred left. They still marched, however, in serried 
platoons, and preserved even unto death their proud and 
martial bearing. This soldier, on re-entering the ranks, 
showed with respect the sword and the decoration of the 
grenadier who had just died. 

At last, on the morning of the 13th December, out of 

The Niémen 

the four hundred thousand warriors who at the opening 
of the campaign had crossed the Niémen near Kowno, 
scarcely twenty thousand repassed the river, and of these 
at least two-thirds had never seen the Kremlin. On 
arriving at the other side of the stream, like shades 
returned from Hades, we cast terrified glances behind us, 
and saw with horror the savage countries where we had 
suffered such woes. We found it difficult to realise that, 
not many months before, we had looked upon them as a 
promised land, which we deemed it dishonour to be among 
the last to enter. 

On leaving the bridge we turned to the left for Gum- 
binnen. Many persisted in conforming to the order of 
the previous evening, to march to Tilsit, and most of these 
fell into the hands of the Cossacks. Those who took the 
proper route had hardly gone more than a few yards 
when they found themselves confronted with a high and 
extremely steep mountain, which would have been fatal 
for our equipages, had we not long since got rid of 
everything of that sort. But several waggons and carriages 
which had been in store at Kowno, and particularly a 
superb park of artillery, recently arrived from Koenigs- 
berg, were abandoned at the foot of the hill. 

Hardly had we entered the duchy of Warsaw when all 
our wreckage dispersed by different roads, and marched 
like ordinary travellers through the same countries which 
a few months previously had been covered with innumer- 
able armies. The Duke of Elchingen, who commanded 
the rear-guard up to the Niémen, lost the few troops that 
still remained to him. This great captain, who had 
crossed that river at the head of forty-three thousand 
men, repassed it alone except for the company of his 
aides-de-camp, and the little party had to defend itself 


The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

with muskets against the Cossacks. In the evening the 
King of Naples and Prince Eugene stopped at Skrauda ; 
the same morning (14th December) on which we left that 
village the Russians entered Kowno, passed the Niémen, 
which was completely frozen over, and spread themselves 
over the immense plains of Poland, where their cavalry- 
killed or captured large numbers of stragglers who thought 
themselves safe, in the belief that the enemy would not 
come beyond the Niémen. 

From Skrauda many went towards Thorn, but the 
Viceroy continued to follow the road to Gumbinnen, 
where he arrived on the 17th December. From there he 
sent his aide-de-camp, General Gifflenga, to Koenigsberg, 
to direct all of the fourth corps who had followed the 
road to Tilsit, to rendezvous at Marienwerder. 

Koenigsberg being the first great town on the road 
we were following, was soon crowded with fugitives from 
Russia, who hoped to restore within its walls their 
exhausted energies. The cafés, the restaurants and the 
hotels were utterly inadequate to meet the demands upon 
their resources. As to the shops, one had to elbow one's 
way through the crowds to enter them. The cold was 
terrible, but the delicious sensation of being able to 
protect oneself against it, and the pleasure of getting 
whatever one desired were all the more appreciated after 
six months of dreadful privations and unutterable misery. 

The King of Naples went to Koenigsberg, where he 
was coldly received by the chief authorities of the town. 
The leaders of each corps went into cantonments along 
the Vistula, and appointed the towns of Plock, Thorn, 
Marienburg, Marienwerder and Elbing for their head- 

At last, on the 27th December, Prince Eugene arrived 

The Niémen 

at Marienwerder, where he busied himself in collecting 
all who belonged to the fourth corps. After the most 
careful inquiries he succeeded in getting together about 
twelve hundred cripples, the miserable remains of fifty- 
two thousand men, who had come all the way from Italy 
to perish in Russia, not from the arms of the enemy, but 
as victims of the fatal madness of a leader, who, not 
satisfied with the conquest of the fairest part of Europe, 
next aspired to vanquish the elements as a preliminary 
to the invasion of deserts. 

Such were the frightful calamities which destroyed a 
powerful army in attempting the most vainglorious and 
futile enterprise that history records. In searching the 
annals of antiquity it will be found that from the age of 
Cambyses to our own day no army equally great has 
experienced such frightful reverses. Thus were fulfilled 
the pompous prophecies uttered by Napoleon at the 
opening of the campaign, with this difference, that it 
was not Russia but himself who, drawn on by Fate, was 
struck down by the inexorable decree of Providence, the 
results of which are seen in the restoration of the liberties 
of Europe and the happiness of France. 



King of Westphalia.— £. Ajaccio, 15th Dec. 1784. Youngest brother 
of Napoleon, m. 1st, Elizabeth Patterson of Baltimore, U.S.A. ; 2nd, 
Frederica Caroline, daughter of King of Wiirtemberg. Commenced 
his career in French Navy. Made King of Westphalia by Napoleon. 
Fought at Waterloo, d. 24th June i860. 

King of Naples. — Joachim Murat. Son ot an innkeeper at Cahors. 
b. 1 77 1. Intended for Church, but escaped from College of Toulouse 
and enlisted in Chasseurs ; dismissed for insubordination. At 
revolution obtained a commission. With Napoleon in Italy and 
Egypt. In 1800 married Caroline, sister of Napoleon. In 1804 
made Marshal and Prince. In 1808 made King of Naples. Deserted 
Napoleon after Leipzig. Took up arms for him in Italy ; tried by 
court-martial and shot, 13th Oct. 181 5. One of the greatest cavalry 
generals that ever lived ; but otherwise a rash, feather-brained, un- 
reliable man. 

Viceroy of Italy. — Eugène de Beauharnais. Son ot Josephine by her 
first husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais. b. 1781. Aide-de-camp 
to Napoleon 1796. With him in Egypt and Italy. Made Prince in 
1804 and Viceroy of Italy. In 1806 adopted by Napoleon. After 
his fall retired to Munich, d. 1824. 

Prince of Eckmuhl. — Louis Nicolas Davoust. b. 1770. Fellow- 
student of Napoleon at Brienne. Fought in nearly all his campaigns. 
War Minister during Hundred Days. d. 1823. 

Prince of NeuchItel.— Alexandre Berthier. b. 1753, and served in 
American War of Independence. With Napoleon in Egypt, Italy 
and Germany. Made peer by Louis xviii. Retired to Bamberg 
during the Hundred Days, and committed suicide through remorse 
in 1815, by throwing himself out of window. 

Duke of Reggio. — Charles Nicolas Oudinot. b. 1767. Distinguished 
himself at Austerlitz. Adhered to Bourbons, and retired to his 
country-seat during the Hundred Days. d. 1847. 

Duke of Elchingen. — Michael Ney. b. 1769. Entered army as 
private hussar 1787. Exhibited great bravery with army of Rhine. 
m. Mlle Anguié, friend of Hortense Beauharnais. In 1804 made 

Principal Leaders during Moscow Campaign 

Marshal. Called in army " the Bravest of the Brave." Made Duke 
of Elchingen and Prince of the Moskwa. In 1814 adhered to 
Bourbons. Deserted them for Napoleon during the Hundred Days. 
Fought at Waterloo. Tried by Court of Peers and shot 7th Dec. 
1815, to the eternal disgrace of the Bourbons. 

Prince Poniatowski. — Joseph. Born at Warsaw 1763; nephew of 
Stanislaus Augustus, last King of Poland. Served against Russians 
under Kosciusko. In 1809 served against Austria. After Leipzig, 
when Napoleon created him Marshal, was drowned when attempt- 
ing to swim his horse across the Elster, 19th Oct. 1813. 

Marquis de Gouvion St. Cyr. — Laurent. Distinguished in many 
campaigns. Adhered to Bourbons and appointed Minister of Naval 
Affairs. One of the greatest of Napoleon's generals, d. 1830. 

Duke of Abrantes. — Andoche Junot. b. 1771. Entered army 1791. 
Attracted Napoleon's attention by coolness under fire at Toulon. 
In 1806 commanded French army in Portugal, and capitulated to 
Wellesley. Committed suicide by throwing himself out of window, 
181 3. Noted for his extravagance and licentiousness. 

Duke of Belluno.— Claude Perrin Victor, b. 1766. Entered army 
in 1 78 1. Fought at Montebello and Marengo; and at Friedland 
was created Marshal. Defeated at Talavera by Wellesley. Adhered 
to Bourbons. Followed Louis xvin. to Ghent, and after Waterloo 
was created Peer of France and Minister for War. d. 1841. 

Duke of Taranto. — Etienne Jacques Joseph Alexandre Macdonald. 
b. 1765. Descended from Scottish family who took refuge in France 
after the rising of 1745. Entered French army 1784. Commanded 
army of Rhine 1796. With Napoleon in Italy. Governor of Rome. 
In 1800 commanded army in Switzerland, where he won great fame 
Fell under Napoleon's displeasure as a friend of Moreau. Taken 
again into favour in 1809. In 18 10 created Duke of Taranto. Ad- 
hered to Bourbons and held aloof during the Hundred Days. He 
was a great captain, and probably the finest character among all the 
marshals, d. 1840. 

Duke of Treviso.— Edouard Adolphe Casimir Joseph Mortier, b. 
1768. Entered army 1791. Held many commands under Napoleon, 
in which he greatly shone. In 1808 made Duke of Treviso. Com- 
manded in Spain. Adhered to Bourbons and remained faithful to 
them during the Hundred Days. In 1819 made Peer of France. 
In 1834 succeeded Soult as War Minister. Killed by Fieschi's 
"infernal machine," 28th July 1835. 

Duke of Istria. — Jean Baptiste Bessières. b. 1768. Distinguished 
himself in Italian campaign 1796, and became intimate friend of 

The Crime of 1812 and its Retribution 

Napoleon. Went with him to Egypt. Fought at Marengo. In 
1804 was created Marshal and Duke of Istria. Killed while re- 
connoitring at Liitzen, May 1813, the day before the battle. 

Duke of Friuli. — Michel Duroc. b. 1772. Accompanied Napoleon 
to Egypt, and fought in nearly all his campaigns, besides being 
closely associated with him personally. Killed at Wurschen, 1813. 

Prince Schwartzenberg. — Carl Philipp, Austrian field-marshal, b. 
1771. Entered Austrian army at an early age. Served against the 
Turks, and afterwards against the French, and fought at Austerlitz 
and Wagram. Commanded against Napoleon in 1 8 14, and after- 
wards was made President of the Aulic Council, d. 1820. 

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